A Response to “Jesus, Evangelical Scholars, and the Age of the Earth.”

According to Dr. Terry Mortenson, Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were created at about the same time the world was created. This creates a problem, however, if the world has been around for billions of years. If the world has existed for billions of years, prior to the evolutionary advent of man, Jesus is either mistaken or a liar.

Dr. Mortenson is a writer for Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry that defends young-earth creationism. Dr. Mortenson holds an MDiv and a PhD in the history of geology. He has lectured in over 25 countries and formerly served for 26 years with Campus Crusade for Christ in the United States and in Eastern Europe.

In his article, “Jesus, Evangelical Scholars, and the Age of the Earth,” Dr. Mortenson uses three Gospel texts to argue that Jesus believed in a young earth: Mark 10:6, Mark 13:19, and Luke 11:50. Let’s look at each of these (emphasis added is mine):

Mark 10:6: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.”

Mark 13:19: “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.”

Luke 11:50: “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.” Mortenson writes:

“When analyzed carefully, ‘from the beginning of creation’ in Mark 10:6 refers to the beginning of the whole creation, not just the creation of the first marriage on day 6 of Genesis 1:27-30. In Mark 13:19, “since the beginning of creation which God created” refers not to the beginning of the human race but to the beginning of the whole creation, starting in Gen 1:1. Luke 11:50-51 focuses on “since the foundation of the world” and refers to the whole creation week of Genesis 1, not just a portion of it.”

Before I go further, let me be clear about the goal of this article. I am not going to argue that young-earth creationism is wrong; my goal is to simply rebut Dr. Mortenson’s arguments.

To begin, Mortenson misunderstands context. In each of the above passages, Jesus is not addressing the age of the earth. In Mark 10:6, Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce. In Mark 13:19, Jesus is speaking prophetically about the events after the destruction of the Jewish Temple. In Luke 11:50, Jesus is rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In all these verses, Jesus is not addressing the age of the earth.

But to be fair, this does not necessarily mean that Mortenson is wrong to see implications in these verses about how Jesus’ understood the age of the earth. Let’s think the best of Mortenson and make a distinction between explicit teaching and implicit teachings. While Jesus may not explicitly speak of his views concerning the age of the earth, perhaps Jesus is implicitly presenting his views on the age of the earth.

Suppose Jesus is being implicit. If it is true that Jesus’ made implicit claims about the age of the earth, then it is difficult to see how this helps Mortenson’s case. In Mark 10:6, Jesus said that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” If the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” really refers to (to quote Mortenson) “the beginning of the whole creation,” then Jesus is claiming that Adam and Eve were created on the first day of creation.

In Mark 13:19, Jesus teaches that there have been no comparable tribulations since “the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” If this is the case, then Jesus is making the ridiculous claim that the events that followed the destruction of the temple in 70 AD were greater than the destruction of Noah’s flood. But, you may ask, isn’t the destruction at the end of the world going to be greater than the Noah’s flood? For my readers who think that Jesus is speaking about the end of time (the eschaton) in Mark 13:19, I beg of you to look at the context closely. Mark 13 begins with Jesus speaking about the Temple, and then predicts its destruction. In 13:3-4, Jesus’s disciples ask, “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” the following discourse is about the events that follow the destruction of the temple. Only at 13:24 does Jesus speak about the end of times: “But in those days, after that tribulation…” In Mark 13:19, Jesus is speaking about the events after the destruction of the temple: “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” If the events after 70 AD were greater than Noah’s flood, than Jesus is guilty of gross exaggeration.

In Luke 11:50, Jesus says speaks about “the foundation of the world.” According to Mortenson, this phrase refers “to the whole creation week of Genesis 1, not just a portion of it.” But in Luke 11:50 Jesus speaks of the time “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” How can this refer to the whole creation week? Taken literally, Jesus said that Abel was created in the first week of creation.

Now of course, the Young-Earth creationist might suggest that Jesus is only speaking approximately. When Jesus spoke of the beginning of creation, or the foundation of the world, Jesus did not imply that Adam, Eve, and Abel were created at the first moment of God’s creation; these were just figures of speech. But if the Young-Earth Creationist says this, she contradicts Mortenson’s argument, as well as undermines the very foundation of his literal hermeneutic.

And here lies the fundamental problem of Mortenson’s arguments: he assumes a hermeneutic of biblical literalism.

What is a hermeneutic? Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, and it has to do with the way we understand and interpret Scripture. When we read Scripture, we naturally assume a particular hermeneutic. We intuitively know when Scripture says that God is a rock it doesn’t mean that God is a lifeless boulder. In Exodus 34:6, there is a Hebrew expression that refers to God having a “long nose.” Any competent translator knows that this cannot be translated literally; it means God is “slow to anger,” or “patient.” When studying the Bible, most competent readers assume a reasonable hermeneutic that takes into account genre (poetry, prose, apocalyptic, etc.), figures of speech, and literary conventions (idiom, metaphor, hyperbole, symbolism, etc.) when reading the Bible.

But Mortenson assumes that Jesus’s words “from the beginning of creation,” and “from the foundation of the world,” imply that Jesus believed the earth is young because Mortenson assumes a literal hermeneutic. Not only does this hermeneutic make Jesus to claim some ridiculous things (as I demonstrated above), but this hermeneutic cannot be applied consistently. Does Mortenson really think that a mustard seed is the smallest seed on the earth (Matt. 13:31)? When Jesus said that he was a door, does Mortenson think that Jesus is a wooden thing that swings on hinges (John 10:7)? Of course he doesn’t. So then why does Mortenson apply a literal hermeneutic to Mark 6:10, 13:19, and Luke 11:50, and not to passages like Matthew 13:31 and John 10:7)? Mortenson needs to explain this inconsistency.

One final point. From the very beginning of his article, Mortenson claims that Jesus took Genesis 1-11 as “straightforward reliable history.” Here Mortenson’s biblical literalism is most evident. It appears that Mortenson is importing a philosophical understanding of history that is informed more by the modern enlightenment  than it is by biblical history. Biblical history is not as “straightforward” as Mortenson claims, and I hope to show in a future post how this is so. The act of recording history is not that straightforward, and scholars influenced by modernism are oftentimes unaware of ancient forms of historiography, like the forms of historiography found in the book of Genesis.

In conclusion, one does not need to adopt a hermeneutic of biblical literalism. There is a way of reading Scripture according to its literary sense; a hermeneutic that takes into account genre, and literary tools. There is a way of preserving the truth of God’s word by honoring it’s socio-linguistic forms of speech without adopting biblical literalism.

Again, let me be clear. I have not argued that Mortenson is wrong about the age of the earth. I have simply shown that his arguments are extremely weak, and that he argues on the basis of a faulty hermeneutic. Mortenson needs to go much further than this to show that Jesus was a young-earth creationist.

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Does the Age of the Earth Matter to the Gospel?

A recent post from isgenesishistory.com entitled “Does the Age of the Earth Matter to the Gospel?” caught my eye as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed.

In this post, writer Thomas Purifoy Jr. argues that the age of the earth does matter to the Gospel. Purifoy writes for the website, which centers around the 2017 Christian documentary “Is Genesis History?” Purifoy was also the writer and director of the film, who was inspired to produce the film after the 2014 debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. The debate was on the age of the earth.

Purifoy identifies 6 essential Christian doctrines that are connected to the age of the earth. He argues:

1. God has accurately revealed the history of the universe and man’s role in it. To allegorize or de-historicize any of those historical events is to question the ability of special revelation to speak clearly about history.

2. God created the entire universe fully-functional in six normal days. To greatly extend the length of time and significantly alter events transforms the doctrine of creation into a slow, indirect, and death-filled process; this, in turn, transforms one’s view of God and His nature.

3. God formed Adam and Eve in His image at the beginning, thereby ensuring His image would be reflected somewhere in the universe at every point in its history. If one places long ages before man’s creation, it means God’s image has been missing from creation for almost all of its history.

4. God cursed the creation as a result of Adam’s sin, bringing death and corruption into a very good world. To say that there were billions of years of corruption and death before Adam’s sin means God created a universe filled with death. This not only changes ones view of the fall, but of the nature of our redemption in time.

5. God judged the entire world with a global flood, killing all land creatures, birds, and people. The idea of a local flood not only violates the history revealed in special revelation, but it denies the past reality of global judgment in space and time, thereby casting doubt on the universality of the judgment to come.

6. God providentially controls every moment of time and history, starting with the first creation and the fall, guiding it to redemption in Christ, and ushering everything toward the new creation. If the timeline of the universe is not the timeline of the Bible, then God’s providence is emptied of its meaning and purpose: it takes responsibility for billions of years of emptiness, silence, and death.

Here is my response to each of Purifoy’s arguments.

1. Purifoy gives a false alternative between allegory and de-historicizing. This gives the impression that Christians who believe that the earth is far older than 6-7,000 years believe that Genesis is either allegory or not history at all. I for one, believe the earth is way older than what Purifoy believes it is, but I don’t think Genesis is allegory. I, like Purifoy, believe the events of Genesis did happen, but I make a distinction between history and historiography. Purifoy appears to have uncritically adopted a modern notion of history–a notion of history that does not match the way the ancient writer of Genesis is doing history.

2. Purifoy writes “God created the entire universe fully-functional in six normal days.” Here, Purifoy is assuming what he wants to prove. While Genesis frames its story in a 6-day creation narrative, this in no way shows that these days are “normal days,” which I assume “normal” here means, “literal 24-hours.” Purifoy needs to argue for his particular reading of Genesis, because it is far from obvious that the 6 days of Genesis are 6 consecutive 24-hour increments of time (more on this below). Furthermore, Purifoy writes, ” To greatly extend the length of time and significantly alter events transforms the doctrine of creation into a slow, indirect, and death-filled process.” I hardly see how extending the time makes creation any less direct. Slower yes. But I ask, what’s wrong with a slower account of creation? Purifoy needs to explain why a slower process of creation is worse than a faster one. I mean, why have 6-literal days when you could do it in 24 hours?

3. Purifoy writes that God formed Adam and Eve in His image. I agree. But then he writes “thereby ensuring His image would be reflected somewhere in the universe at every point in its history.” But why think that? On Purifoy’s own view, would this not be problematic because God’s image was not present in the universe at days 1-5? Again, Purifoy’s assumptions are questionable. I don’t see why God’s image must be in creation at every point in its history.

4. Here is Purifoy’s most powerful argument. An earth that is billions of years old would entail a billion years of corruption and death in the plant and animal kingdoms before Adam’s sin. While this is a good argument, death before Adam and Eve’s sin did not appear to bother early Christian interpreters like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. There is a very long line of Christian interpreters through history that did not understand sin and death the way Purifoy does, and Purifoy has, once again, made doctrinal assumptions that he has not demonstrated to be valid. Many Christian have believed, and still believe that Adam and Eve’s sin brought human death and corruption. One can reasonably assume that there was death at the micro-biological level before Adam and Eve’s sin, or else sustainable life would not be possible.

5. I believe this is Purifoy’s weakest argument. He needs to provide reasons for why we must think that Noah’s flood was global, because there is nothing in the text of Genesis that demands that it be so.

6. Finally, Purifoy writes, “If the timeline of the universe is not the timeline of the Bible, then God’s providence is emptied of its meaning and purpose.” Once again, it appears that Purifoy assumes the Bible is of the same literary form as a modern history. I can demonstrate text after text within the Bible that shows that the authors of its pages do not always write histories the way modern history is written. Purifoy has way too many unspoken and un-argued assumptions about the nature of the Bible, especially the text of Genesis.

Purifoy writes, “there are some Christians today who say the Bible does not even speak to the age of the earth. This view, however, would surprise the vast majority of interpreters throughout the history of the church.” This is patently false. In fact, I would argue that Purifoy’s interpretation of Genesis is very young in Christian interpretive history. There is a whole host of Christian interpreters who did not read Genesis the way Purifoy, or other young earth creationist do (Justin Martyr, Origin, Augustine, Basil the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, to name a few).

 

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God-Talk and the Incarnation

matthew-writingBack in March of this semester, I had a fascinating conversation with a lady on my plane. As a theology student from a Southern Baptist seminary, as well as a traveler on a return trip back from Israel, I was equipped with subject matter that made conversation about Jesus easy, and the lady I sat next to had tons of questions. After some time I began to focus more on evangelism, and I asked her about her thoughts regarding God. Her response was so very typical of what I have come to learn to be a Post-Modern rejection of “God talk.” In Post-modernity, God-talk, or theology, is impossible, due to the inability of language to express the infinite. Language is finite, and as such cannot express what is by nature beyond the categories of thought and language. The lady I was talking to had drank deeply from the wells of Post-Modern philosophers, and expressed skepticism toward my own God-talk. She simply could not believe that anyone could talk of God because God was simply much too far above the limits of language.

I’m going to say something that may shock a few Christians. After my own studies in Post-Modernism, I have come to agree with the Post-Modernists: language is incapable of expressing God. I think the lady next to me was taken aback when I began to agree with her own position. God transcends human language, and language alone is incapable of signifying something that is beyond the reach of the human sign-system.

But then I began to explain to her why I believe Jesus is God: What human language cannot do, God did in the incarnation. You see, when Jesus assumed flesh, he took upon Touchhimself much more than our skin–he put himself within our own sign-system. Human language was assumed in the incarnation, enabling our signs to express what was beyond language’s reach, making it possible for us to express God truly (though not exhaustively). This truth is captured beautifully by the Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar:

“Since God has in himself the eternal Word that expresses him eternally, he is most certainly expressible; and since this very Word has taken human form and expresses in human acts and words what it is in God, it is capable of being understood by men. . . The identity of Christ’s person in his two natures as God and man is guarantee of the possibility and rightness of the reproduction of heavenly truth in earthly form, and of its accuracy in Christ.

. . .The exact correspondence between the divine content and the human expression is inseparable from the person of the incarnate Word of God, being itself the effect of the incarnation. In other words the relation between the human and the divine in scripture finds its measure and norm in the relation between the divine and human natures in Christ. And just as the whole of Christ’s humanity is a means of expressing his divine Person, and this in turn being the expression of the Father, so each word in Scripture is a purely human word, but yet, as such, wholly the expression of divine content.”

If the incarnation did not happen, then no one can speak of God. God-talk is made possible by the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. I did not convince the lady next to me on the plane, but I gave her something to think about. In the Incarnation, God expressed himself in a form that we could understand, and by doing so, demonstrated his love for us and thereby making it possible for us to love him back.

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Aesthetics and Christian Worship

A paper written in my worship perspectives class.

Aesthetics and Christian Worship

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Sex and Gender Issues

A paper written for my introduction to Ethics class.

SEX AND GENDER ISSUES

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Top 5 books of 2014

The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, Daniel Treier Roger Lundin, Mark Husbands, Ed.

This was my top favorite book of the year! The Beauty of God is a collection of articles that discuss the interplay between theology and the arts. Covering music, painting, film, and literature, tthe beauty of Godhe contributors discuss various subjects including the role of theology in the music of J. S. Bach, how the resurrection establishes a new redemptive aesthetic in the arts, how Jazz music reflects something of the nature of beauty, as well as how God can speak to us through film. My favorite article in this book was written by Jeremy Begbie, who wrote a wonderful introduction into the nature of beauty. What is beauty, and does beauty tell us something about God? According to Begbie, a theological account of beauty can be developed based upon the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Fascinating read, and by far the best book I have read all year.

Art and Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic, by Nicholas Wolterstorff

This was a great book, and I enjoyed reading Wolterstorff’s unique perspective on how mankind acts artistically. Wolterstorff maintains that the definition of art can be found by considering the varied activities undertaken by mankind.  This book is a very dense read Art in actionbecause Wolterstorff, being the philosopher that he is, demonstrates how art is a type of communication, and how aesthetic standards are found in “fittingness.” Artists are workers in fittingness, who take consideration of their tools (paint, musical instruments, words), and how their tools best fit the intent of their message. The best part of this book is Wolterstorff’s exploration of Christian aesthetic standards, and how the Christian should be aesthetically responsible. Humans are made in the image of a creative God and are therefore cast in his likeness, and Wolterstorff explains how the Christian artist can find his role in the cultural mandate of Genesis 2:15.

Being and Some Philosophers, by Etienne Gilson

One of the best books on Philosophy I’ve read. Strictly a work on metaphysics, Gilson traces the historical development of the concept of “being” from the Eleatic philosophers up to the modern era. Starting with the Greek Philosopher Parmenides, Gilson brilliantly explains the parmenidean dilemma, and how the problem of change and permanence was addressed by Plato, Aristotle, and the Scholastics. I enjoyed this book immensely, especially because it placed philosophers within their cultural context, which helped me to understand why philosophers like Plato came up with the ideas that they did. The contextualization helped me to have a better vantage point on the overall history of philosophy, and I’ve not read a book that has done a better job at that than Gilson’s book.

Faith and Beauty, by Edward Farley

During the spring semester I wrote a paper on art in Christian worship, during the course of which I ended up writing about beauty. As I wrote, I began to realize that I couldn’t write about something I knew nothing about. What is beauty exactly? What makes something beautiful, and is beauty merely in the eye of the beholder? Or is beauty, like truth, something that has objective standards? As a Christian, is God beautiful, and what would it mean to say that God (being immaterial) is beautiful? This book was one of the best books I read that addressed these questions. Farley does a great job at surveying the history of discourse surrounding beauty, and enlightens the reader as to how Christianity added to the Platonic and Aristotelian discussion of beauty. Jonathan Edwards gets notable mention, and Edward’s perspective gives a uniquely reformed look on the nature of beauty. I loved this book!

Theology and the Arts: Encountering God through Music, Art, and Rhetoric, by Richard Viladesau

For someone who has no background in the arts, this book was an easy and rewarding read. The premise of this book could be stated like this: That God reveals himself through art, antheology and the artsd that art reveals how humans see God. How so? The Bible tell us that God has revealed himself through his handiwork, and this is generally understood among Christians to mean that God reveals something of himself in the stars of the heavens. But is the sky the only place that one can look? Since humans are also the product of God’s handiwork, can something of God be revealed through the human imagination? Since humans are made in the image of God, Viladesau follows what he feels to be the implications of this truth. God speaks through the human imagination, and even through human depravity, glimmers of God’s truth shine forth. Art bears the indelible marks of God’s imprint because the humans that produce art are bearers of that same image. Viladesau explores the history of art with this premise, showing not only how God speaks through the human imagination, but also how the human imagination has changed in how it understands God.

Obviously, I read a lot about art and beauty. It became an obsession of mine over the summer, and I have since become very passionate about the role that theology plays in the arts. I plan on doing further studies in this area. If you enjoy these subjects as much as I do, then these are great books to start with.
I also wrote a blog that incorporated what I learned about beauty during the summer. If you’re interested, please check it out here!

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Communion: a Sign of the Gift

Tonight I went to my church’s candle light service, which is a service that is very meaningful to me. It has now been close to ten years since I remember leaving a candle light service in tears because I was so disenchanted with everything I had grown up believing. How could one man who lived 2,000 years ago be a light to the world? Did that even make sense, and did it really matter? From what I observed (and I admit, I was blinded by immature cynicism), it didn’t seem like it mattered to a host of people sitting next to me in the pews. On this night we light our candles to represent not only the light of the Christ child, but also of the light that he has put into our hearts, and it is on this night that so many Christians leave that service with only a charred candle wick to show for it.

After a nearly making a shipwreck of my faith, Christ had grace on me, and has shown me a thing or two about how his life really is light, and why the radiance of his countenance makes a difference in our lives, and how we are all growing in glory as we partake of the splendor of his image. Ten Candlesyears later, I stand amongst a crowd of people, amidst rows of burning candles, enchanted by the beauty of God’s grace.

How appropriate it is then, that the practice of First Baptist Niceville is to have communion before they begin the candle light service. Just as we share in the light of Christ, we share in the meal that is a symbol of our fellowship with him. If we do not share in this meal, we cannot partake of his light, and as John teaches in his epistle, we do not have fellowship with each other. Table fellowship with our Lord and with each other is the prerequisite for sharing in this glorious light that is symbolized by our candles. Those candles represent the integrity of that fellowship.

Now on to the point that I want to make. It is about communion, and the way we speak about it in Baptist circles. This word “symbol” is a funny word, and I often hear the word “mere” attached to it. No doubt, this attachment is added to stress Communionthat nothing happens to the bread and win. . . er, I mean grape juice. No substances are being transformed here. It is just bread, and it is just grape juice. The mere ingesting of these elements do not confer to the one who eats some special status before God. However, in the act of taking communion there is a transformation that takes place (albeit, it is not a necessary transformation, nor does this transformation take place in the vicinity of the altar). When we take take communion, we remind ourselves of the status that has already been conferred to us, and also remind ourselves of the glory that will be ours when our Lord returns. Communion is a reminder, and it is therefore a means of grace.

Now, if you are a Baptist reader you may feel like I have lured you into something that smells suspiciously sacramental. I must admit, it is sacramental, and I’m not going to hide the fact that I feel strangely sacramental when I take the Lord’s supper. I have no problems calling the communion a means of grace. What I do have a problem with is calling the Lord’s supper a “mere symbol.”

I have thought this term over for some time now and it remains to me to be the most opaque of terms. For I know what a “symbol” is, but I lose its sense of meaning the moment I attach the word “mere” to it. It has to do with my understanding of a symbol. Right now at this very moment, right before your eyes, you are presented with thousands of symbols, and everyone of them represent a reality that is very real. If I type the word “horse,” I type a symbol that represents a very real substance that exist outside my mind and my computer. If you tell someone, “I love you,” then this statement is a symbol, and I feel like it would be very insulting to the person you said it to by saying that that statement was a “mere” symbol.

Is it really? Is the way in which you express love to someone a “mere” symbol? What does that even mean?

Symbols are not mere anythings. They are signs that signify a reality about which we speak of. If I kiss a woman, this is no mere lip service. If it were, then I would have been disingenuous. A kiss may be on one level the brushing of two lips together, maybe the exchange of saliva, but on another level there is a reality to it that makes my stomach flip, my heart beat wildly, and a feeling of joy that overwhelms the senses- a feeling that very few things can surpass. A kiss is the sign of my love- yea, not love itself, but what it represents is very real, and the reality of that love is as much a gift to me as it is to the one I give it to. And this is what grace is: a gift. Grace is a gift that cannot be reduced to a mere symbol. Symbols convey grace, and it is through symbols that we encounter reality. It is through symbols that we are reminded of a reality that reaches out to us- a reality that is itself a gift from God.

Bread and grape juice are gifts. This is why we thank God for them. But what makes the Eucharist so special is that it is a gift stacked upon a gift. It is a gift that represents the most valuable gift of all.

“This is my body, this is my blood.”
This is a gift, and it is through this gift that the crucified_christ_detailgift of bread and juice, through the eyes of faith, are seen to be a reminder of Christ’s life being given to us. In the communion, the elements are a physical means through which we are reacquainted with grace, and when we respond in worship, this grace (not the bread and juice) transforms us.

Communion is a symbol, but there is nothing “mere” about it. It represents something very real, and when the elements are presented to me, I choose to recommit my life to the very foundation that makes that bread and juice meaningful. Through the Communion, I am presented with grace upon grace, and it is a grace that reconnects me to Christ and his Church, as well as a grace that causes me to be a light to a world that Christ came to redeem.

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