Is the New Testament a Fraud?

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Is the New Testament a Fraud?

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The Da Vinci Code book and movie, as well as other similar works, have raised many questions about the early Church.

For example, Princeton University religion professor Elaine Pagels recently stated: "What I find interesting about [The Da Vinci Code] is that it raises a very important question. If they—meaning the leaders of the Church—suppressed so much of early Christian history, what else don't we know about? . . . I think it's a really important question because the answer means a great deal" (Secrets of the Da Vinci Code, U.S. News and World Report special edition, 2006, p. 36).

Why such public interest?

Why have readers and moviegoers taken this work of fiction as seriously as if it were nonfiction? Why have the book and film captured the imagination of the general public? Yes, the book is a "good read" and the film features Hollywood favorite Tom Hanks in the leading role. But is there something far more significant behind the obvious reasons?

Noted Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips put her finger on a point we should not overlook. In unraveling its fictional mystery, the book takes advantage of our built-in inclination to want to discover the true meaning of life. As Ms. Phillips puts it, "There is a profound spiritual hunger in the Western world which, for a variety
of reasons, the Church is no longer able to assuage" (April 10).

As the years whip by and we go about fulfilling our routine day-to-day duties in a continual cycle, it's natural for us to begin to wonder somewhere along the way if there is any real meaning to life. Ms. Phillips goes on to say: "This quest for meaning furnishes the never-ending popular desire to know whether or not the Bible was true."

The trouble is, so many people never seem to get around to reading and studying the Bible for themselves. Instead, too many put their trust in what movies, other books, academics, politicians and other supposed experts say about the Bible. Often the supposed experts today have never read or studied it either. So we should never consign this supremely important task to others! (see Acts 17:11 Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
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).

Why not blow the dust off your Bible and begin to read and study its contents for yourself?

What the Bible says about itself

Since The Da Vinci Code questions accepted events in the biblical world of the first century, this article will concentrate on the credibility of the New Testament. Yet the Old Testament does bear heavily on the accuracy of the New.

Fully one third of the New Testament consists of quotations from or allusions to passages in the Old Testament. The New Testament mentions the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies including those concerning the birth, ministry, messiahship and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself, referring to the Old Testament—the only "Bible" available at the time—stated that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35 John 10:35If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
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). It's interesting to note that the Old Testament nowhere foretells a human marriage of the Messiah to come, yet many other aspects of His life are clearly prophesied (compare Luke 24:25-26 Luke 24:25-26 [25] Then he said to them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: [26] Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
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).

The Jewish community was entrusted "with the very words of God" (Romans 3:2 Romans 3:2Much every way: chiefly, because that to them were committed the oracles of God.
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, New International Version). Its official representatives of Jesus' day bore responsibility in religious matters (Matthew 23:2-3 Matthew 23:2-3 [2] Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: [3] All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
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) until the time that "the kingdom of God [would] be taken away from [them] and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it" (Matthew 21:43 Matthew 21:43Therefore say I to you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
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)—a reference to the New Testament Church of God (compare 1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Peter 2:9-10 [9] But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; [10] Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
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).

Jesus would shortly build and establish His Church through His chosen apostles (Matthew 16:18-19 Matthew 16:18-19 [18] And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
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; 18:18). In due time they would record their experiences in what would become the New Testament.

The apostles and the New Testament canon

Since The Da Vinci Code controversy revolves around questioning the truth and accuracy of the New Testament, we need to understand how the books were selected. Which books were inspired by God to be a part of His Word?

Our English term "canon" is an anglicized form of the Greek word kanon, meaning a rod or ruler. The Bible could not be canonized without proper standards. The New Testament itself shows that the apostles themselves participated in the beginnings of this process to a much greater extent than is generally believed.

The apostle Paul tells us that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles (who authored most of the books of the New Testament) and the prophets (who authored the books of the Old Testament), with Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20 Ephesians 2:20And are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
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).

Jesus gave a major role in the formation and teachings of the Church to the apostles, telling them, "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18 Matthew 18:18Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
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).

Peter's contribution to canonicity

Near the time of Peter's martyrdom, he became even more deeply concerned about the preservation of the apostles' teaching. "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent [body], to stir you up by reminding you" (2 Peter 1:12-13 2 Peter 1:12-13 [12] Why I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth. [13] Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;
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, emphasis added throughout).

Now carefully consider the key passage that follows in verse 15: "Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. " How could this possibly be accomplished except by deliberate preservation of a written work?

Then he continues the theme of reminding the brethren of basic doctrinal truth in chapter 3: "Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the Holy Prophets [in the Old Testament], and
of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior
[the beginnings of the New Testament]" (2 Peter 3:1-2 2 Peter 3:1-2 [1] This second letter, beloved, I now write to you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: [2] That you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Savior:
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).

Peter's closing words make it clear that he fully realized what constituted written Scripture up to that time, and it was not just the Old Testament:

"Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (verses 15-16, NIV).

Thus, Peter obviously equated the apostle Paul's letters with Scripture—and not only that, but the clear implication is that these letters most probably already existed in a copied, collected, and distributed form. Perhaps they were even in Peter's hands as he wrote these words.

Peter's two letters were written to "God's elect, . . . scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1 1 Peter 1:1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
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, NIV; compare 2 Peter 3:1 2 Peter 3:1This second letter, beloved, I now write to you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
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). Except for Galatia, these are not exactly the same places that Paul originally addressed most of his letters to. Yet the clear implication of the concluding verses of Peter's second epistle is that Paul's letters (again, most likely in a collected form) were by then reaching the same places to which Peter was writing.

Paul's contribution to canonicity

Consider the circumstances in Paul's second and final letter to Timothy just prior to martyrdom. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure [death] is at hand" (2 Timothy 4:6 2 Timothy 4:6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
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). Among his final instructions to the young evangelist were: "Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments" (verse 13).

The late British scholar F.F. Bruce commented on this passage: "What the parchments were which Paul so anxiously desired Timothy to bring we cannot be sure, but it is a reasonable guess that they contained portions of Holy Scripture" (The Books and the Parchments, 1963, p. 12). Surely copies of Paul's own letters would have been included as well.

He was a literary man who wrote many letters, some of which were not included in the New Testament canon. Since he wrote this final letter to Timothy under the pressure of imminent execution, it is inconceivable to think that Paul would not have taken steps to see that his letters would be preserved for future generations of the Church.

Some have even pointed out that the "cloak" Paul mentions is likely not a reference to an item of clothing to keep him warm, but rather a cover or folder in which the parchments were held. The Greek word could denote either. In English, we have the similar term "jacket," which can apply to either a coat or a book cover.

Paul's letters, it should be noted, provide an early witness to Christ's teachings. Much has been made of the supposed time gap of 40 and more years between Christ's preaching and the time the Gospel accounts were written. N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church, comments: "Scholars used to be quite dogmatic on the dating of the gospels, but the more scholarship has gone on the less we can be as sure as we thought. What is more, the gospels are dependent in turn on traditions that are very early indeed . . .

"The once-fashionable scholarly tradition of pushing the gospels later and later and regarding their contents with more and more scepticism has been radically undermined from several angles" (Decoding Da Vinci, 2006, p. 18).

The witness of Paul to some of the major events has been overlooked in contemplating the usual time scenario. Some scholars estimate that Paul began writing letters less than 20 years after Christ's crucifixion. Some date Galatians, thought to be his first letter, as early as A.D. 48—only 17 years after Jesus' death and resurrection.

Since Paul's letters rarely quote from the four Gospel accounts or other New Testament books (1 Timothy 5:18 1 Timothy 5:18For the scripture said, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward.
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quotes Luke 10:7 Luke 10:7And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
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), most of his letters apparently predate these other New Testament writings. Yet Paul's letters clearly corroborate the message of the four Gospels.

For example, his letters reveal that before Christ was betrayed, He instituted the New Testament Passover ceremony with the new symbols of bread and wine (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 [23] For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: [24] And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. [25] After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. [26] For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death till he come.
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) and witnessed a good testimony before Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13 1 Timothy 6:13I give you charge in the sight of God, who vivifies all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
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). Paul also confirmed that Christ died by crucifixion, was buried and rose again by a resurrection from the dead (Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
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; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 [3] For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; [4] And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [5] And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
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; Philippians 2:8 Philippians 2:8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
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)—after which He ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:9-10 Ephesians 4:9-10 [9] (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
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).

John's final Gospel and Revelation

Clearly both Peter and Paul, who died around A.D. 67-68, were martyred before the final books of the New Testament were composed. However, the resurrected, living Jesus Christ made sure one key apostle would remain alive to complete the New Testament. Apparently primarily for this reason, John would outlive Peter (John 21:18-23 John 21:18-23 [18] Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not. [19] This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, Follow me. [20] Then Peter, turning about, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrays you? [21] Peter seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? [22] Jesus said to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? follow you me. [23] Then went this saying abroad among the brothers, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not to him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you?
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).

The full understanding of the gospel and "things to come" had not yet been revealed (John 16:13 John 16:13However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
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). The Gospel of John, the book of Revelation and perhaps the letters of 1, 2 and 3 John were yet to be written.

Notice F.F. Bruce's assessment: "Towards the end of the century, John, perhaps the last surviving companion of Jesus in the days of His flesh, records his reminiscences of his Master's life and teaching, together with his meditations on them, in such a way as to supplement the earlier gospels" (p. 107). This explains why his Gospel is so different from the other three. Writing much later, John was in many respects filling in the gaps, so to speak.

John himself comments as an early eyewitness near the conclusion of his Gospel: "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31 John 20:30-31 [30] And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: [31] But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.
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).

Then at the very end of the book he repeats his personal testimony as an eyewitness. "This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we [plural, meaning other Church members] know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24 John 21:24This is the disciple which testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
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; compare 1 John 1:1-3 1 John 1:1-3 [1] That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; [2] (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show to you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) [3] That which we have seen and heard declare we to you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
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).

Further, John is specifically told by Jesus to write the book of Revelation, what to include in it and to whom it was to be sent (Revelation 1:9-11 Revelation 1:9-11 [9] I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. [10] I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, [11] Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia; to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.
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). It is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," which God the Father imparted to Him (verse 1). Christ personally revealed it to the apostle John.

Its conclusion includes a severe warning to those who would either add to or take away from this final book of the New Testament (Revelation 22:18 Revelation 22:18For I testify to every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add to these things, God shall add to him the plagues that are written in this book:
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). The book thus has a ring of finality to it, and in principle its warning certainly applies to the entire Bible. God's Word must be respected (Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:2For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
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; Proverbs 30:5-6 Proverbs 30:5-6 [5] Every word of God is pure: he is a shield to them that put their trust in him. [6] Add you not to his words, lest he reprove you, and you be found a liar.
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).

Sound scholarly testimony

Guiding His apostles and their successors, why did Jesus Christ include certain books and not others? What has been called "apostolicity" is the major standard. Each and every New Testament book was either composed by an apostle of Christ or a very few close associates.

"So we find Mark, the companion and interpreter of Peter, committing to writing . . . the Gospel as Peter habitually proclaimed it . . . and Luke, the companion of Paul, writes in two books [Luke and Acts] for Gentile readers a narrative for the beginnings of Christianity from the birth of John the Baptist up to Paul's two year residence in Rome" (Bruce, p. 107).

Dr. Peter Head is the Sir Kirby Laing research fellow at Tyndale House in Cambridge. In addition to his research activities, he teaches the New Testament in the Faculty of Divinity. He categorically states: "None of the non-canonical gospels offer any independent information about Jesus which is of any substance . . . Our conclusion must be that there are no realistic alternatives to our four gospels if we are looking for historical information about Jesus" ( Is the New Testament Reliable?, 2003, p. 17).

Luke was not only a physician (Colossians 4:14 Colossians 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.
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), but also a scholarly and highly skilled historian who wrote both his own Gospel account and the book of Acts. Notice that he prefaces his Gospel account with an explanation of his careful and methodical approach to the task:

"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed" (Luke 1:1-4 Luke 1:1-4 [1] For as much as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, [2] Even as they delivered them to us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; [3] It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you in order, most excellent Theophilus, [4] That you might know the certainty of those things, wherein you have been instructed.
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).

Is the Bible believable?

The late professor F.F. Bruce was a highly competent Bible scholar who primarily focused his lifelong studies on the New Testament. He wrote in the preface to the fifth edition of The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?: "The grounds for accepting the New Testament as trustworthy compare very favourably with the grounds on which classical students accepted the authenticity and credibility of many ancient documents" (1975, p. 5).

Later in this book he continued: "The evidence of our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning" (p. 15).

Dr. Peter Head concurs with F.F. Bruce's testimony: "The wealth of material undergirding the text of the New Testament becomes overwhelming . . . Documentary evidence for the New Testament is much stronger than for any comparable works from the ancient world" (Is the New Testament Reliable?, pp. 8, 10).

The biblical record is supported in many small details by archaeological finds. Inscriptions, seals, tombs, historical records and other artifacts verify the existence of almost 70 individuals listed in the Bible, many of whom are mentioned only in passing.

Countless other discoveries such as cities, towns, customs and titles of government officials have been discovered that bear witness to the fact that the books of the Bible were indeed written when they claim to have been. 

William Ramsay is one noted scholar who initially dismissed the New Testament as a historical fabrication. The young Oxford graduate had been taught by his professors that the Bible was written much later than it claimed to be and thus shouldn't be taken seriously. But after years of study and travel in the Holy Land and Asia Minor trying to disprove Scripture, Ramsay came to an inescapable conclusion: The New Testament narrative "showed marvelous truth."

Over his long academic career Ramsay was honored with doctorates from nine universities and eventually knighted for his contributions to scholarship. At one point he shocked the academic world by announcing that the incontrovertible evidence he had discovered over his years of study compelled him to become a Christian. He went on to write several books that are considered classic works on New Testament history.

A ring of truth

In the words of another highly respected Greek and biblical scholar, William Barclay: "Without question the books which are Scripture and which are truly the word of God have about them a self-evidencing quality. They carry their uniqueness on their face. To read them is to be conscious of being brought into the presence of God and truth and Jesus Christ in a unique way" (The Making of the Bible, 1961, p. 74).

That is one reason it is so important to read and study the Bible for yourself! GN

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