Archive for the ‘Romans 13’ Tag

Biblical Anarchy 2   3 comments

LELA: Becky Akers and I continue our conversation on anarchy and Christianity. See earlier installments on the Conversation with an Anarchist page.

BECKY: Hello again, Lela. We parted last time on a question that had long puzzled me: how to reconcile Romans 13 and I Peter 2:13-17 with the rest of the Bible. Those two passages seem to extol government and urge not only our compliance but our enthusiastic support. Yet a myriad of other verses condemn the State’s wickedness, as we saw last week.

LELA: Thanks for coming back, Becky. I’m definitely stumped by the apparent contradiction. As a Baptist, I find my church tries very hard to take the entire Bible into context. I know a couple of pastors who are cool in their attitude toward government and/or military conflict, but most Baptists are straight up statists who consider me a radical for advocating for state secession and federalization and they base that stance on those two verses. How do you resolve it?

BECKY: Yep, the apparent contradiction between those verses and other passages, such as Judges 9, I Samuel 8, Psalm 2, etc., troubled me greatly. So did the silliness of asserting that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” [Romans 13:3] This is obviously untrue of any and all political governments: even a cursory examination of history shows the diametrical opposite, let alone our own experiences with politicians and bureaucrats. Meanwhile, Christians are worse than fools to believe or to preach such lunacy. So how could God, writing through Paul, allege such an absurdity?

LELA: Especially since Nero was emperor of Rome at the time. It would seem patently obvious that Christians had a great deal to fear from him even if they were doing good.

BECKY: Especially if they were doing good! Well, Lela, I searched long and hard for an explanation. I read a great many commentaries from other Christian anarchists—and some who were not so Christian.

LELA: I’ve noticed that in researching this topic that a fair number of anarchists claiming to be Christians just dismiss the verses they don’t like – claim they were added by Constantine or the Catholic Church.

BECKY: Exactly. But true Christians never presuppose that the Bible is just another book from which we pick and choose what we wish to believe. It is the Word of God in its entirety, even those parts that mystify us or confuse our puny, finite minds. Ergo, I immediately ruled out anyone who denied the Bible’s authority, who pooh-poohed either passage as not really inspired or as some government’s later interpolation, or who dismissed these verses as Paul and Peter’s disingenuous attempt to placate their Roman persecutors.

LELA: I totally agree. I don’t know how someone can call themselves a Christian, but ignore the parts of God’s word they don’t agree with. That standard often makes for some complications, but it’s the only way to be true to my faith, I think.

BECKY: Anyway, after crashing into lots of dead ends, I finally found this masterful treatment of Romans 13 and I Peter 2. The author makes an excellent case for their wildly inaccurate translations from the original Greek – and though I don’t read Hebrew, as I mentioned previously, I studied both Greek and Latin as my major in college. So I was able to verify his thesis that the Greek words used in these passages do not typically pertain to government; rather, they refer to other “authorities,” such as our biological fathers, owners of property, etc. (I am over-simplifying here and urge folks to read the article rather than rely on my inadequate summary.) Indeed, the usual translations, whether King James or more modern ones, err so egregiously that they invert the meaning, upholding the State instead of its private and far superior alternatives.

LELA: My Greek is not as good as yours. I have to rely on helps and on friends who have studied Greek. I went to the Net Bible’s Greek interlinear of Romans 13 and cross-referenced with Strongs and found that it is a voluntary giving in for the purposes of cooperation. There’s an element in the word “exousia” (translated governing authorities) of the power of choice or liberty. In 1 Peter, I found similar ideas of voluntaryism with the idea that the king (or ruler of the people) is to be estimated (or judged) by the people. I’m pretty sure that the Christians of Paul and Peter’s time would have estimated Nero as a crazy man who wanted them all dead. At some point we’re going to have to talk about whether we can adequately estimate the value of a ruler through elections, but let’s continue with the Scriptures for now.

BECKY: Restoring their true content to these two sections of Holy Writ shows us yet again that our omnipotent, omniscient God does not contradict Himself. (And now, the third verse of Romans 13 makes utter sense, too: our fathers, tutors, and other familial and social “rulers” do indeed reward us when we do well!) The Lord utterly opposes evil, even from politicians and government. And His revelation bears this out in all its chapters, including those that fallen sinners have (deliberately) mis-translated.

Meanwhile, in addition to the Bible’s outright condemnations of political government, Scripture also implies that the State should not exist. We find some of the most egregious implications against the State in the Ten Commandments.

Too many Christians read these laws as if the Sixth and Eighth end with the words “unless thou wearest a badge and a polyester costume that the State issueth.” Yet “You shall not murder” and “You shall not steal” are pretty much absolute. They permit no exceptions, nor do they read, “You shall not murder unless the State says it’s OK because those little brown people over there in Iraq might be terrorists” or “You shall not steal unless the government lusts after the ‘revenue’ from the traffic tickets you write hapless drivers.”

Let’s think about that for a moment to understand how truly radical it is. If the Lord – and we, His followers – hold the State to the Eighth Commandment, if indeed no one, not the IRS, not the Congress or president, no bureaucrat, no politician, no cop or judge, can legitimately, “morally” force anyone to hand over his wealth, then taxation will screech to a halt. Government cannot function, cannot even exist, without the taxes it steals from us. The State will disappear.

Likewise with war, which is nothing more than organized, State-mandated mass murder. Randolph Bourne very wisely observed that “War is the health of the State.” Other philosophers have noted that wars allow governments to grow exponentially, that legislators who pass “emergency measures” while bullets are flying do not rescind them when peace is declared. New taxes, new bureaucracies, new infringements on freedom – war allows the State to foist all these on its subjects.

But if we take the Commandment against murder seriously, if indeed no one, not the Pentagon, not the Congress or president, no bureaucrat, no politician, no cop or judge, can legitimately, “morally” murder another person, even a foreign one, then war will end. And the State will shrink dramatically if it doesn’t completely vanish.

Until that glorious day, however, many churches and Christians act as if the Ten Commandments are mere suggestions, and ones they can safely ignore at that. Far from rebuking or shunning members of their congregations who volunteer to murder on government’s behalf, they praise them. And while I have gagged at plenty of sermons about how “honest” Christians will never cheat on their taxes, I have yet to hear one on how honest Christians will oppose official theft and all the evils politicians buy with our money, from abortions to the White House’s lies , lavish living , and orgies .

In case the Ten Commandments’ prohibition of the State’s life-blood doesn’t convince readers that political government is incompatible with the Bible, I’ll look at another of our Lord’s implications next week, Lela. Hint: many people consider this one “golden.”

LELA: I look forward to that.
Becky Akers is a free-lance writer and historian who has written two novels about the American Revolution, Halestorm and Abducting Arnold.

 

 

Halestorm and Abducting Arnold, the revolutionary novels. Buy them before they’re banned!

Visit the books’ website.

Ignorance of Our Nation   1 comment

What is the appropriate application of Romans 13 in a self-governed society?

When the American colonies revolted against King George, we were technically in violation of Romans 13. None of us alive today participated in that conflict, but we are the recipients of the liberty that was won through it. Our country was founded on the principle of civil disobedience in the face of tyranny, yet we who are the heirs of the liberty that was won in the conflict want to deny ourselves the option of using it now.

Why? Who are the civil authorities in the United States of America? Don’t we the people choose them and aren’t they supposed to represent us and our ideals, not their own interests? Yet when these “representatives” begin to usurp our authority and tell us how to live, we pull out Romans 13 like a magic shield that says we must submit to government in all guises — even to an illegitimate government that should not exist according to our founding documents.

We the people, including Christians, are the government of the United States. We are the sovereign authority of the nation — the king, if you will (though I think more regents of the True King, Jesus Christ). Read the Constitution and note the first sentence, if you doubt me. Moreover, the states are meant to direct the federal government, not the other way around.

This is a completely different situation from what Paul was writing to the Roman Christians who lived under a dictator. The emperor was THE higher power and as long as he ruled justly and did not command Christians to violate God’s law, Christians were bound to submit to him. They had no say because they chose to live in a society that did not permit mere citizens to have a say.

In the United States, however, we are a Constitutional Republic which was explicitly founded upon Biblical principles. Romans 13 cannot apply in exactly the same way as it did to the Roman Christians because the PEOPLE of the United States are THE higher power. We are supposed to be self-governed by God’s law, which means we are bound to disobey laws and statutes that interfere with our submission to the Creator. The Founders believed “There is no king but Jesus”. Any other attitude but this is nothing short of idolatry.

Misinterpreting Sin as God-Ordained   Leave a comment

How do we apply Romans 13 to the current situation in American Christianity? It’s difficult to deny that the United States government has grown oppressive and tyrannical far in excess to its own charter documents (the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution), which enshrines self-government (government by the citizens themselves with officials answerable to us) as the foundation of the nation.

The question is … does God permit Christians to exercise our judgment in determining which laws we will obey or disobey? May we withhold taxes, customs, fear, and honor from the federal government when it oversteps its limitations and seats itself upon God’s throne?

I know Christians who will answer that question firmly in the negative based on Romans 13. They will accept all sorts of laws, no matter what the implications to their faith might be, because they hold Romans 13 as a cornerstone of Christian faith.

Perhaps they should consider the Protestant churches of Nazi Germany as instructive.

In the 1930s, the “German Christians’ Faith Movement  sought to move Germany away from Christianity toward a religion based on psychology (Carl Jung approved), the replacement of Christian ceremonies with pagan equivalents, the rejection of Christian ethics, and the cult of Hitler’s personality. The movement ardently supported the Nazi principles of race and wanted them applied to a Reich Church that would bring all Protestants under a unified ecclesiastic  structure.

Opposed to the “German Christians” was a minority group called “the Confessional Church”, which opposed the Nazification of the churches, rejected Nazi racial theory and denounced attempts to use Hindu and pagan literature as a substitution for the Bible.

Neither of these groups was the majority of German Protestants. The vast majority of Protestants were too timid to join either of these groups. They sat on the fence and eventually, mostly, landed in Hitler’s camp by default, accepting his authority to intervene in church affairs and obeying his commands without open protest.

Hitler used Romans 13 to foster a sense of docile submission from the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Germany, writing in 1940:

The Protestants haven’t the faintest conception of a church. You can do anything you like with them– they will submit. These pastors are used to cares and worries… they learnt them from their squires…. They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them. They have neither a religion that they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.

There were some courageous rebels like Deitrich Bonhoeffer who refused to submit, but for the most part, the churches allowed the Nazis to carry out their “Final Solution” without protest. Church leaders even criticized laity for disobeying their “governing authorities” by hiding Jewish refugees in their homes. In Holland, the ten Boom family may well have been “outed” for their activity by their pastor.

Misinterpreting sin as God-ordained does not make it any less a sin. There are times when we do need to stand up because if we do not, the blood of millions of people may cry out to God for judgment against the Christian churches in our own nation.

 

Reformed Interpretation of Romans 13   Leave a comment

The writings of the Protestant reformers resound with the principle of the primacy of the Scripture-bound conscience over human tradition. None of these men interpreted Romans 13:1-7 in the way that it is currently interpreted.

John Calvin advocated a similar position as Luther. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was written primarily as a rebuttal of the anabaptist anarchist tendency to declare all civil government to be incompatible with Christian liberty, he exhorted Christians to submit to the authorities who had been placed by God over them with the following qualifications:

“But in that obedience which we hold to be due to the commands of rulers, we must always make the exception, nay, must be particularly careful that it is not incompatible with obedience to Him to whose will the wishes of all kings should be subject, to whose decrees their commands must yield, to whose majesty their sceptres must bow. And, indeed, how preposterous were it, in pleasing men, to incur the offense of Him for whose sake you obey men!The Lord, therefore, is King of kings. When He opens His sacred mouth, He alone is to be heard, instead of all and above all. We are subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. If they command anything against Him let us not pay the least regard to it, nor be moved by all the dignity which they possess as magistrates– a dignity to which no injury is done when it is subordinated to the special and truly supreme power of God.”

At a later time, Calvin wrote a commentary on Romans 13:1-7 that more directly addresses the proper submittal to the legitimate rule of the magistrate:

The reason why we ought to be subject to magistrates is, because they are constituted by God’s ordination…. [T]yrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the well being of mankind…. [T]hey are the means which he designedly appoints for the preservation of legitimate order…….[Paul] speaks here of the true, and, as it were, of the native duty of the magistrate, from which however they who hold power often degenerate.

Being Baptist in polity, I naturally looked toward the Westminister Confession of Faith to see what that says on the subject:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word…. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also…….[B]ecause the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God….

It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience sake.

The Reformers regarded obedience to the civil magistrate to be required when the magistrate was exercising legitimate authority, but allowed for rejection of that authority when the exercise of it became tyrannical or violated morality. It was a “middle ground” approach between Erasmus’ earlier position which required unqualified submission and the anabaptist position which advocated rebellion against all forms of “wordly” authority.

Neither extreme is the godly position and in the “third way” of the Reformers Christians will find choices to prove that the Christian life was never meant to be one of easy choices.

 

 

Not-So Holy Roman Empire   1 comment

I’m not sure we can truly appreciate how the world worked in the Medieval era because we here in the United States are so used to the concept of self-governance and separation of church and state.

The Roman Empire had provided unity of most of western Europe. With the inclusion of Christianity as the exclusive religion of the Empire, it could dictate to the daily behaviors of European peasants. When the Empire went away, it became unsafe to travel the roads, cities became disease-ridden (because sewers want maintenance) and trade became very difficult beyond a few miles from any village. People craved the sense of unity that the Roman Empire had engendered and the concept of hierarchial political organization that called for one ultimate head over all existing states.

The Holy Roman Empire was an attempt to reacquire those ideals. It never completely worked. France and England, for example, never acknowledged any  real subordination to the emperor, although they recognized a vague supremacy in him. The German kings, once elected by the German princes, considered themselves entitled to become Roman emperor as soon as they could arrange the coronation, which was supposed to be done at the hands of the Pope. Whoever the ruler was, he considered the imperial title to establish his right to control Italy and Burgundy as well as Germany because of their potential source of power, wealth and prestige. The Empire’s vast size and diversity of population were serious obstacles to effective rule and good government.

Thus, the Roman Catholic Church was essential in solidifying secular control. Churchmen crowned the emperors, so actually sustained the Empire, considering it to be the Church’s secular arm, sharing responsibility for the welfare and spread of Roman Christianity and duty-bound to protect the Papacy. That’s how it worked in principle. However, the partnership seldom worked smoothly as one side of the other would try to dominate the other. There were frequent fluctuations in power and changes in the prevailing political and theological theories that various rulers and churchmen adopted.

From AD 962 to 1250, the Empire was dominated by strong emperors of the Saxon, Franconian, and Hohenstaufen dynasties, who were powerful enough to depose Popes they though to be unsatisfactory. They generally governed through existing officials such as counts and bishops rather than creating a direct administrative system. This made the Roman Catholic Church central to the needs of the state because the Church recorded births, coming of age (confirmation), marriages, and deaths. If a ruler needed a list of who was living in a particular area, say for an effective military levee, he had only to ask the Church for that information. As everyone who wanted to get into heaven was required to submit to Church dogmas like infant baptism and marriage rites, the peasants lined up for a virtual census, unaware that they were being tracked by the medieval equivalent of the NSA.

By cleverly entangling church with government, the Holy Roman Empire left people with little recourse. Romans 13 said Christians must obey. That the government sometimes asked you to do immoral things had been a good reason for early Christians to say “no”, but when the government was also the Church ….

Believers were between a rock and a hard place and every way they turned, there was no choice in the matter … unless they knew the Bible. Ah, yes, but so few did.

Subverting Scripture   Leave a comment

Romans 13 was written in AD 56-57 from Corinth, where Paul was making tents in the market place while ministering to the local community. Most Christians were not power brokers. The earliest Christians were Jews living in virtual clientage in Palestine. Paul was a Roman citizen with the rights that came with that status, but he abandoned the prestige of being Gamalial’s heir-apparent as THE scholar in Jerusalem to be God’s ambassador to the Gentiles. So he sewed tents in the market place.

The church Paul wrote to was nothing like the church of Rome 300 years later. This congregation lived under threat and soon Nero would attack them with impunity, accusing them of spreading the plague and burning down parts of Rome. The last thing the congregation in Rome needed was the reputation of being rebellious. Thus, Paul suggested they submit to the authorities.

There’s two reasons for this and he touched on them. One, God’s followers are in the world, but not of it. Our citizenship is not Roman or American so much as it is heaven. This is true now as it was true then, but it was more true then. Christians might have to flee to another country to survive. As such, they couldn’t afford to become too attached to whatever governmental system they lived under. The second reason was that Jesus had told them to be peaceful and forgiving, so to be rebellious would cast the God they served in a bad light.

They were going to be hated as Christians regardless, but Paul wanted them hated for being Christians, not for refusing to pay their taxes or follow some other secular law that did not impact their Christianity.

Being Christian was enough of a crime because Christians did not bow to Caesar or sacrifice in the pagan temples. After Paul’s sojourn in Ephesus, Christians would stop buying and making silver idols for the goddess Diana. Christian masters sometimes freed their slaves, which actually led to revolts among slaves held by non-Christian masters. The private worship practices of Christians struck the pagans, used to public displays of religion, as highly suspect — causing false accusations of cannibalism and incest. Later the pagans would feel that Christian neglect of the old pagan gods lead to the weakening of the Roman Empire.

Paul meant for Christians to voluntarily submit to authorities to avoid trouble with the government and so that Christians would be hated for being Christians, not hated for being subversives.

And, I would note, his advice eventually worked. Christians became known throughout the Empire as peaceful people who went about their faith without resorting to violence. They took this idea of submission so far that they sang hymns as they walked into the coliseums to be devoured by wild animals as a form of execution.

Yet, once the church at Rome and, by extension, Christianity, became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire, that voluntary submission became a liability requiring a subversion of Scripture.

Returning to Romans 13   Leave a comment

Romans 13 was written at a time when Christians had no political power and were increasingly endangered by persecution.

If you return to previous posts, you’ll see that the Greek words might have meant a more voluntary submission than the usual hard edge connoted by commentators. It’s important to note that “authorities” didn’t just mean government officials. Peter and John ran afoul of temple “authorities” when they were told to stop preaching there and they refused.

The fact is that, from God’s perspective, Christians are not positionally subjected to human governments. We are priests and kings of the Most High God. Like it or not, agree with it or not, He owns everything on this planet, right down to our DNA. He’s just letting us borrow it for now. The time will come when that reality will be all too clear even to those who deny it. And, Christians are His heirs by adoption.

That might give some folks, even faithful Christians, a big head. I suspect Paul, with that history of being Gamalial’s student, heir to a great deal of prestige in the Jewish community, struggled with the temptation of hubris. I think most Christians, if they rolled their human frailty about in the knowledge that we are Christ’s adopted siblings, would be tempted to lord that exulted position over our fellow humans.

So God said we can’t.

Why? Because He knows us and we are who we are, so He says we won’t receive that reward on this planet, which keeps us humble. Humility is good and it follows the example of Christ Who being God stepped down into creepy human flesh to die for us. Even God submitted Himself to His own authority.

So Christians are encouraged to submit to government authorities as an exercise of humility. We learn a great deal about our relationship with God through our relationships with our fellow human beings — including officers of the state.

But that doesn’t mean that Romans 13 says we must submit at all times to all governments under all circumstances.

Romans 13 in Context   Leave a comment

For most of European history, Christians were taught that the government was divinely appointed. No matter what  government did, Christians were to treat it as just and fair and support it wholeheartedly because Romans 13 said we must. There is no distinction made in Romans 13 between “good” rules and “bad” rulers or “fair” laws or “unfair” laws. There’s not even an out for objecting to oppression.

That is … if you take the verses in Romans 13 all by themselves ….

That’s not how Paul wrote them and it’s entirely possible that it was not how he meant them. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans as a letter and what we deem Chapter 13 is just a convenient way of breaking up a large body of text. If we go back further in the letter, we can find where the subject he’s discussing starts. Chapter 12 ends with the admonition “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Romans 12 talks a lot about the Christian’s love for one’s neighbor as one’s self and strongly warns Christians not to resist evil with evil. We aren’t just to love those who we find loveable, but to bless those who persecute us; “bless and not curse.”

Then we reach 13:1 where it says there is no authority except that instituted by God and that Christians are to be subject to the government authorities. Governing authority is, according to the Net Bible translates as “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, leave or permission” (and only talks about government rule in the fourth definition). The NET Bible was translated and the site is administered by textual critics from the Dallas Theological Seminary. The word translated “be subject to” actually carries with it two connotations. In the military sense, it means to arrange or subordinate under the command of a leader, but in the non-military sense, it means to have a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating to share a burden.”

Is it possible that this passage of Scripture has been deliberately misinterpreted and given that militaristic sense in order to co-opt Christianity into the governing systems?

Some Through the Jail   Leave a comment

Peter preached in the streets of Jerusalem and thousands came to Christ. The authorities had hoped that murdering Jesus in a very public way would stop the gospel, but clearly they hadn’t cowed the believers. Now they were preaching in the temple.

The temple authorities told Peter and John to stop preaching in the temple in Acts 4. Peter and John answered in a quote of the Hebrew Three. “We must obey God rather than you, so we will not stop preaching.” They then violated the order by doing exactly as God commanded. They spent time in jail for it.

Christians rightfully celebrate the stand of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in Daniel 3 and Peter and John’s defiance in Acts 4. Clearly they were obeying God and clearly God rewarded their civil disobedience with miracles.

What does that tell us?

That there is a place for civil disobedience in the Christian life, but we still can’t ignore Romans 13. It is part of the Bible too. The Christian life is not velvet and satin. To truly live as Christ commands us, we have to make some hard choices, choices that require thought and that might cause conflict both with the world around us and also be our churches and even our own guts.

Christians must stand up for the truth as believers in the Truth, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we must avoid the temptation to become hypersensitive to every affront to our scruples. I hate some of the things my taxes are used to fund, but not paying my taxes is probably not the best choice of protest. It may well be a violation for the 1st amendment for the local police to force me to move my abortion protest across the street from the abortion “clinic”, but is it appropriate for me to provoke an arrest by ignoring the mandated buffer zone?

Where do we draw the line?

Do you know?

Paul the Jail Bird Apostle   Leave a comment

The Bible is filled with passages I struggle with. Thus is the “plight” of the thinking Christians, that we cannot just walk lock-step with what others tell us the Bible says, that we must either ignore these passages, blindly obey them, or seek to understand them. Romans 13 is one of those passages. It’s God’s word, written down by the hand of Paul the apostle when he was in prison for ….

Hey, wait a minute! Paul was in prison for disobeying the governing authorities! What is going on here?

Take Bible passages out of context and you can get almost any meaning you want out of them, but when you seek to understand them, you have to look at  a wider view – the whole epistle, the whole Bible, the culture Paul was writing from and the city and church he was writing to.

Statists want to use Romans 13 to justify their tyranny and anti-statists either want to excise the words from the Bible because of the implied self-tyranny or twist the meaning into something Paul did not intend. Both sides in this discussion would be wrong. Truth lies in trying to understand what Paul meant in the larger context of the Bible and the culture in which he lived as well as in the culture in which we live.

Paul was in prison for disobeying the governing authorities when he wrote the letter to the Roman church. It wasn’t his first time in lock-up for the same crime and he wasn’t the first believer in God to face such punishment.

Did Paul act the hypocrite when he wrote Romans 13 or are we not understanding it as he meant it?

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