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What the Original Really Means: An Exegetical Parody

Jul 29, 2015 | Justin Taylor

A classic illustration from New Testament scholar Moisés Silva:


It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:

Marilyn, tired of her glamorous image, embarked on a new project. She would now cultivate her mind, sharpen her verbal skills, pay attention to standards of etiquette. Most important of all, she would devote herself to charitable causes. Accordingly, she offered her services at the local hospital, which needed volunteers to cheer up terminal patients, many of whom had been in considerable pain for a long time. The weeks flew by. One day she was sitting at the cafeteria when her supervisor approached her and said, “I didn’t see you yesterday. What were you doing?” “I painted my apartment; it was my day off,” she responded.

The archaeologists know just enough English to realize that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:

We are unable to determine whether this text is an excerpt from a novel or from a historical biography. Almost surely, however, it was produced in a religious context, as is evident from the use of such words as devoted, offered, charitable. In any case, this passage illustrates the literary power of twentieth-century English, a language full of metaphors. The verb embarked calls to mind an ocean liner leaving for an adventuresome cruise, while cultivate possibly alerts the reader to Marilyn’s botanical interests. In those days North Americans compared time to a bird—probably the eagle—that flies.

The author of this piece, moreover, makes clever use of word associations. For example, the term glamorous is etymologically related to grammar, a concept no doubt reflected in the comment about Marilyn’s “verbal skills.” Consider also the subtleties implied by the statement that “her supervisor approached her.” The verb approach has a rich usage. It my indicate similar appearance or condition (this painting approaches the quality of a Picasso); it may have a sexual innuendo (the rapist approached his victim); it may reflect subservience (he approached his boss for a raise). The cognate noun can be used in contexts of engineering (e.g. access to a bridge), sports (of a golf stroke following the drive from the tee), and even war (a trench that protects troops besieging a fortress).

Society in the twentieth century is greatly illuminated by this text. The word patient (from patience, meaning “endurance”) indicates that sick people then underwent a great deal of suffering: they endured not only the affliction of their physical illness, but also the mediocre skills of their medical doctors, and even (to judge from other contemporary documents) the burden of increasing financial costs.

A few syntactical notes may be of interest to language students. The preposition of had different uses: casual (tired of), superlative (most important of all), and partitive (many of whom). The simple past tense had several aoristic functions: embarked clearly implies determination, while offered suggests Marilyn’s once-for-all, definitive intention. Quite noticeable is the tense variation at the end of the text. The supervisor in his question uses the imperfect tense, “were doing,” perhaps suggesting monotony, slowness, or even laziness. Offended, Marilyn retorts with a punctiliar and emphatic aorist, “I painted.”

Readers of Bible commentaries, as well as listeners of sermons, will recognize that my caricature is only mildly outrageous. . . .


Silva goes on to point out the obvious: not only does is the exegesis “overinterpretation,” but “it contributes virtually nothing to the reader’s understanding of what the passage actually says!”

He continues:

Preachers who make appeals to “the original” may in some cases help their readers obtain a better insight into Scripture. More often than not, however such appeals serve one of two functions: (1) they merely furnish illustrations to heighten interest to that hearers think they have a better understanding of the passage (cf. the comment on embark above); (2) they provide the occasion to make a point that has little do to with the passage (cf. the comment on patient).

The parody is found in Silva’s excellent book, God, Language, and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics, reprinted in the volume Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation (Zondervan, 1990), pp. 199-201.

This book is profitably read in conjunction with D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (2d ed., Baker Academic, 1996).

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6 Predictions about Evangelicalism over the Next 5 Years

Jul 29, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Greg Forster—author of the excellent book Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (foreword by Tim Keller)—offers his predictions about evangelicalism over the next five years:

  1. Evangelicals will lose little ground as a percentage of the American population.
  2. Evangelicals will hold steady on core beliefs, but will often sound like we aren’t.
  3. Evangelical cultural influence will decline in the short term as we are persecuted and excluded.
  4. A new Religious Right and a Benedict Option movement will both rise and flame out quickly.
  5. Evangelicals will cultivate local, holistic responses to economic and sexual destruction.
  6. Evangelicals will embrace a “hopeful realism” about America, and end up in a position of strength.

You can read his explanation of each point here.

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The Planned Parenthood Exposé Takes You into a Lab that Procures Baby Parts

Jul 28, 2015 | Justin Taylor

The third video from The Center for Medical Progress released this morning, shot in more of a documentary style with interviews to go alongside the secret recordings:

Human Capital – Episode 1: Planned Parenthood’s Black Market in Baby Parts

Proverbs 24:11-12:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”

Does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay man according to his work?

Image from http://adam4d.com/silence/

Image from http://adam4d.com/silence/

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The Single Most Practical Advice for Christians? Never Read a Bible Verse

Jul 27, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.39.28 AMGreg Koukl shares his advice: ”Never Read a Bible Verse.”

If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I’ve ever learned as a Christian?

Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. That’s right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph at least.

Koukl explains that on his radio program, when people call in with Bible question, this is the technique he uses to answer questions, even when he’s totally unfamiliar with the verse:

I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, I let it tell me what’s going on.

This works because of a basic rule of all communication: Meaning always flows from the top down, from the larger units to the smaller units, not the other way around. The key to the meaning of any verse comes from the paragraph, not just from the individual words.

You can read the whole thing, where he goes into more detail and gives a number of examples. Here’s his summary conclusion:

Never read a Bible verse. Instead, read a paragraph, at least. Always check the context. Observe the flow of thought. Then focus on the verse.

Remember, meaning always flows from the top down, from the larger units to the smaller units. A reflection on a Bible passage from a sermon or a devotional may be edifying, encouraging, and uplifting. If it is not the message of the text, though, it lacks biblical authority even when the quote comes right out of the Word of God.

If you will do this one thing if you will read carefully in the context applying the paraphrase principle you will begin to understand the Bible as God intended. Without the bigger picture you’ll be lost.

Only when you are properly informed by God’s Word the way it is written in its context can you be transformed by it. Every piece becomes powerful when it’s working together with the whole.

It’s the most important practical lesson I’ve ever learned . . . and thing single most important thing I could ever teach you.

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Just How Sovereign Is God?

Jul 22, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Charles Spurgeon:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—

that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—

that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.

The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—

the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

Does Scripture really teach this? I believe the answer is yes. Here is just a tiny sampling:

God Is Sovereign Over . . .

Seemingly random things:

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
(Proverbs 16:33)

The heart of the most powerful person in the land:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
he turns it wherever he will.
(Proverbs 21:1)

Our daily lives and plans:

A man’s steps are from the LORD;
how then can man understand his way?
(Proverbs 20:24)

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . .  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15)

Salvation:

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
(Romans 9:15-16)

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
(Acts 13:48)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:29-30)

Life and death:

See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)

The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
(1 Samuel 12:6)

Disabilities:

Then the LORD said to [Moses], “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
(Exodus 4:11)

The death of God’s Son:

Jesus, [who was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
(Acts 2:23)

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
(Acts 4:27-28)

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief. . . .
(Isaiah 53:10)

Evil things:

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the LORD has done it?
(Amos 3:6)

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7)

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. . . . “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
(Job 1:21-22; 2:10)

[God] sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. . . . As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
(Psalm 105:17; Genesis 50:21)

All things:

[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.
(Ephesians 1:11)

Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
(Psalm 115:3)

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
(Job 42:2)

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
(Daniel 4:35)

And since compatiblism is true, none of this contradicts the equally biblical teaching that Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and that human choices are genuine and significant.

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With a New Undercover Planned Parenthood Video Due Out on Tuesday, Watch This Emotional Speech from a Courageous Politician

Jul 20, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Senator_James_Lankford

Senator James Lankford (R-OK): “It doesn’t bring me comfort to know that one child is torn apart so maybe they can do research on the child’s organs so at some future moment [they can] help a different child.”

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5 Days to Learn a Simple, Practical, Biblical Approach to Prayer

Jul 20, 2015 | Justin Taylor

praying-bible-logo-header

When it comes to prayer, do you ever feel like you’re saying the same old things about the same old things?

Sign up to join Don Whitney—author of the new, short book, Praying the Bible—on a 5-day journey to learn a simple, practical, and biblical approach to prayer that will turn duty into delight! In just a few minutes a day, you’ll learn a time-tested method that could transform your prayer life: praying the words of the Bible.

Prayingthebible

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How to Make a Pro-Life Argument in 2 Minutes or Less

Jul 19, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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The Urban Legend that Thomas Jefferson Believed in a Wall Separating Church and State

Jul 16, 2015 | Justin Taylor

It may be surprising for some people to learn that President Thomas Jefferson—who allegedly held to a “wall of separation between church and state”—endorsed the use of federal funds to build churches and also endorsed the use of federal funds to support Christian missionary work among Native Americans.

Daniel Dreisbach—professor of Justice, Law, and Society at American University and the author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State (New York University Press, 2003), has a helpful summary article entitled ”The Mythical ‘Wall of Separation': How a Misused Metaphor Changed Church-State Law, Policy, and Discourse.”

He explains:

Jefferson’s wall, as a matter of federalism, was erected between the national and state governments on matters pertaining to religion and not, more generally, between the church and all civil government.

In other words, Jefferson placed the federal government on one side of his wall and state governments and churches on the other.

The wall’s primary function was to delineate the constitutional jurisdictions of the national and state governments, respectively, on religious concerns, such as setting aside days in the public calendar for prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving.

903WallSeparation

This jurisdictional or structural understanding of the wall can be seen in Jefferson’s correspondence with the Danbury Baptist Association, where he uses the “wall metaphor.”

President Jefferson had been under Federalist attack for refusing to issue executive proclamations setting aside days for national fasting and thanksgiving, and he said he wanted to explain his policy on this delicate matter. He told Attorney General Levi Lincoln that his response to the Danbury Baptists “furnishes an occasion too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors [Presidents Washington and Adams] did.” The President was eager to address this topic because his Federalist foes had demanded religious proclamations and then smeared him as an enemy of religion when he declined to issue them.

Jefferson’s refusal, as President, to set aside days in the public calendar for religious observances contrasted with his actions in Virginia where, in the late 1770s, he framed “A Bill for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving” and, as governor in 1779, designated a day for “publick and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.”

How, Dreisbach asks, can Jefferson’s public record on religious proclamations in Virginia be reconciled with the stance he took as President of the United States?

The answer, I believe, is found in the principle of federalism. Jefferson firmly believed that the First Amendment, with its metaphoric “wall of separation,” prohibited religious establishments by the federal government only. Addressing the same topic of religious proclamations, Jefferson elsewhere relied on the Tenth Amendment, arguing that because “no power to prescribe any religious exercise . . . has been delegated to the General [i.e., federal] Government[,] it must then rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority.”

Dreisbach also quotes from Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address (March 1805) for further evidence:

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general [i.e., federal] government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of State or Church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.

So in essence, Jefferson’s federalism led him to judge it inappropriate for the President to proclaim days of religious observance, but he recognized the authority of state officials to issue such proclamations. So the “wall,” for him, was between the federal government and the state governments when it came to religion.

You can read Dreisbach’s whole piece for further information, including how this metaphor was misused by Justice Black to create a modern urban legend.

For a brief comment on the meaning of the “wall” and its proper application, here is Princeton’s Robert P. George:

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What C. S. Lewis Would Say about Planned Parenthood

Jul 15, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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C. S. Lewis:

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.

In those we see its final result.

But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

—Preface to The Screwtape Letters.

HT: Doug Wilson

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This Kind Cannot Be Driven Out by Worldview Training and Legislation: The Place of Prayer and Fasting for the Pro-Life Movement

Jul 14, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Hands crossed in prayer

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Mark 9:28-29

John Piper, in his book on fasting, Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer, looks at Francis Schaeffer’s legacy of worldview engagement, and then writes:

But I wonder if many of the young scholars and activists (now in their forties and fifties!) whom he inspired need to hear a balancing word about the power of prayer and fasting, not as an alternative to thinking and acting, but as a radical foundation that says, “The victory belongs to the Lord, even if the horse (of scholarship and politics) is made ready for the day of battle” (see Proverbs 21:31).

Listen to the books crying out for

  • evangelical renewal and reformation in the life of the mind,
  • the restoration of Truth in the place of technique,
  • the recovery of church social compassion from government powerlessness,
  • the taking of moral high ground in the environmental cause,
  • and many other causes.

Is there a sense in each of these that the root issues are so intractable to human suasion that the call for fasting and prayer would not only be fitting but desperately needed?

I am commending such a call.

“Fasting,” Piper writes, “comes in alongside prayer with all its hunger for God and says,

We are not able in ourselves to win this battle.

We are not able to change hearts or minds.

We are not able to change worldviews and transform culture and save 1.6 million children.

We are not able to reform the judiciary or embolden the legislature or mobilize the slumbering population.

We are not able to heal the endless wounds of godless ideologies and their bloody deeds.

But, O God, you are able!

And we turn from reliance on ourselves to you.

And we cry out to you and plead that for the sake of your name, and for the sake of your glory, and for the advancement of your saving purpose in the world, and for the demonstration of your wisdom and your power and your authority over all things, and for the sway of your Truth and the relief of the poor and the helpless, act, O God.

This much we hunger for the revelation of your power.

With all our thinking and all our writing and all our doing, we pray and we fast.

Come. Manifest your glory.

Piper continues:

I appeal to you to seek the Lord with me concerning the place of fasting and prayer in breaking through the darkened mind that engulfs the modern world, in regard to abortion and a hundred other ills.

This is not a call for a collective tantrum that screams at the bad people, “Give me back my country.”

It is a call to aliens and exiles in the earth, whose citizenship is in heaven and who await the appearance of their King, to “do business” until he comes (Luke 19:13).

And the great business of the Christian is to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), and to pray that God’s name be hallowed and his kingdom come and his will be done in the earth (Matthew 6:9-10). And to yearn and work and pray and fast not only for the final revelation of the Son of Man, but in the meantime, for the demonstration of his Spirit and power in the reaching of every people, and the rescuing of the perishing, and the purifying of the church, and the putting right of as many wrongs as God will grant.

I join Piper in commending this practice to you. What looks foolish to the world (forgoing food to pray for the protection of the unborn) may look utterly foolish to the world, but it will be pleasing to the God who sees and rewards in secret.

Update: John Piper suggests we consider fasting over lunch on Wednesday, July 15, to pray for the rescue of the most defenseless members of our society. Will you join us?

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Planned Parenthood Uses Late-Term Abortions to Harvest Fetal Organs

Jul 14, 2015 | Justin Taylor

nucatola

A deeply disturbing undercover video below exposing Planned Parenthood’s use of fetal body parts after abortions.

Planned Parenthood receives over $540.6 million each year from taxpayers for government health services.

You can read more on the story here.

For more context, you can view the nearly three hours of footage here or read the 60-page transcript.

And please read this excellent exhortation to the Church from Russell Moore. Here’s an excerpt:

The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).

The children torn apart in abortion facilities have no names, but God knows their names. They have no resting places but Jesus grants them rest. If we are called into the kingdom of a just Messiah, one who welcomes children, we should stand up and speak up for the vulnerable ones He loves. These children may be just another line item in the abortion industry’s profit ledger, but they share the humanity of our Lord Jesus—and we must plead for justice for them.

It is time for the reborn to stand up for the unborn.

Update: Joe Carter looks into the law and discovers, to his dismay, that this practice is probably legal, and undoubtedly common. An excerpt:

So what does all this mean? It means that this despicable practice of selling the body parts of aborted children is likely to be legal and an accepted, if not common practice, among abortion providers. The video should serve as a disturbing wake-up call for the pro-life community. We are justified in being outraged by the trafficking in human parts by Planned Parenthood and we should be outraged at the federal government that made it legal to traffic in the sale of aborted human flesh. What’s more we should call on our legislators to act to both defund Planned Parenthood and do ban the sale of fetal tissue.

The Center for Medical Progress responds to Planned Parenthood’s response:

Planned Parenthood makes two key admissions in their statement today: 1) aborted fetal parts are harvested at their clinics, and 2) money is exchanged in connection with this. They also tell several lies: 1) That proper consent is obtained from patients, 2) That Planned Parenthood does not make money off the body parts, and 3) that everything is legal.

You can read their post here with evidence refuting #2.

Update: Here is a pro-lifer who watched the entire unedited video and who finds the editing and marketing of it problematic, though the actual practice still deeply troubling.

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John Piper Poetically Imagines the New Heavens and the New Earth

Jul 13, 2015 | Justin Taylor

dog-jumping-off-dock-labrador-water-fetch-ball-chase-dives

A portion of John Piper’s poem, “Justified for Evermore,” found in his book, Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, rev. ed. (Multnomah, 2012), 379-82.

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream-
Almost-and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned and saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift their voice to sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.

The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

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