THE HOLISTIC VIEW OF MAN
"What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" (Psalm 8:4). We all know that he is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but exactly what IS the nature of man? Mankind has been asking this question, and seeking the answer, almost from the beginning of time.
One of the important truths conveyed in the OT Scriptures, as the nature of man is considered, is that man is a unified whole, rather than a loose fusion of separate and disparate entities. It was much later that the pagans began to influence the thinking of the people of God in the direction of two (dichotomy) or three (trichotomy) distinct parts. This dualistic manner of conceptualizing human beings has persisted throughout most of Christian history, and began in the so-called intertestamental period to influence the Jewish thinking as well.
"A human being is a totality of being, not a combination of various parts and impulses. According to the Old Testament understanding, a person is not a body which happens to possess a soul. Instead, a person is a living soul. ... Because of God's breath of life, the man became 'a living being' (Gen. 2:7). A person, thus, is a complete totality, made up of human flesh, spirit (best understood as 'the life-force'), and nephesh (best understood as 'the total self' but often translated as 'soul')" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 61). "The Old Testament truth that people exist as a totality remained firm in New Testament writings" (ibid). "The New Testament illustrates four specific and distinct dimensions of human existence, but the writers of the New Testament affirm with the Old Testament writers that a human being is a totality, a complete whole" (ibid).
"In the Bible, a person is a unity. Body and soul or spirit are not opposite terms, but rather terms which supplement one another to describe aspects of the inseparable whole person. Such a holistic image of a person is maintained also in the New Testament even over against the Greek culture which, since Plato, sharply separated body and soul with an analytic exactness and which saw the soul as the valuable, immortal, undying part of human beings. ... According to the Bible, a human being exists as a whole unit and remains also as a whole person in the hand of God after death. A person is not at any time viewed as a bodyless soul" (ibid, p. 1295-1296).
Dr. Everett Ferguson, a dear brother in Christ, in his book Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries (ACU Press), comments on some statements found in the noted second century work The Epistle to Diognetus (in which are found the statements: "The invisible soul is imprisoned in a visible body" and "The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tent"). Dr. Ferguson observes: "From the standpoint of the Biblical doctrine of man, one can fault the author for his Greek distinction between body and soul. The sharp separation he makes is more in accord with Greek philosophy than it is with the Biblical view of the unity of the whole man" (p. 198). Everett later comments, "The author's anthropology is faulty" (ibid).
"The ancient Hebrews did not approach man dualistically as have the Greeks nor, by implication, the general public of contemporary Western society" (Dr. Arnold De Graaff and Dr. James Olthuis, Toward A Biblical View Of Man, a paper produced for the Institute For Christian Studies, p. 81). "Man is not a soul imprisoned in a body. Both belong together in a psychosomatic unity. ... There is not dualism in the sense of separation, as though there could be full man either as body alone or as soul alone. ...together they make up the one man" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 134).
"The English translation ... 'soul' has too often been misunderstood as teaching a bipartite (soul and body: dichotomy) or tripartite (body, soul and spirit: trichotomy) anthropology. Equally misleading is the interpretation which too radically separates soul from body as in the Greek view of human nature. Porteous states it well when he says, 'The Hebrew could not conceive of a disembodied soul.' ... As R.B. Laurin has suggested, 'To the Hebrew, man was not a body and a soul, but rather a body-soul, a unity of vital power'" (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, p. 496). "What is essential to understanding the Hebrew mind is the recognition that man is a unit: body-soul" (ibid, p. 497).
It is important to note the growing number of scholars who have perceived the doctrine of dualism to be anti-biblical and totally opposed to the true holistic nature of man. This realization is especially vital to our theology, for "what Christians believe about the make-up of their human nature largely determines what they believe about their ultimate destiny" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 21). "A survey of the studies produced during the last fifty years or so, reveals that the traditional dualistic view of human nature has come under massive attack. Scholars seem to outdo one another in challenging traditional dualism and in affirming Biblical wholism. ... Christianity is coming out of a stupor and is suddenly discovering that for too long it has held to a view of human nature derived from Platonic dualism rather than from Biblical wholism" (ibid).
Thus, as we examine the "parts" of man (body, soul, spirit) we need to keep in mind that these are NOT separate living entities that perhaps can survive apart from one another, and even prosper. Rather, they are integral aspects of the whole man and do not rise to higher, fuller life when freed from one another. Such a concept is pure paganism, and it has no basis in the Scriptures and certainly has no place in the teachings of Christianity.
The biblical view of the nature of man is probably best perceived in Genesis 2:7 -- "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." One could perhaps present this passage as an equation:
Let's notice each of these three concepts more closely, especially since some traditionalists see in this verse justification for the doctrine of "immortal soulism."
"Of the thirteen words which refer to the animal or human body, the most frequent is basar, 'flesh.' It can designate the body as a whole, but the form or shape of the body or of its parts is not what is important. The focus is on the function or dynamics" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 202). The Greek word most often utilized for the body is "soma."
The body of man was formed from the physical elements that also make up the earth about us. According to one source on the Internet, "A chemical analysis of man's body reveals that it consists of 72 parts oxygen, 13.5 parts carbon, 9.1 parts hydrogen, 2.5 parts nitrogen, 1.3 parts calcium, 1.15 parts phosphorus, and small amounts of potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, silicon, iodine, and fluorine. The first six elements listed in this paragraph, therefore, make up more than 99% of man's body."
Although one might want to verify these figures with those better equipped to know than I, nevertheless the point is made that our human bodies consist of common elements found in the physical creation. Phrased more poetically: we are formed from the dust of the ground. In Genesis 3:19 man was informed, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." Abraham, as he ventured to speak to the Lord, acknowledged, "I am but dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27). "For He Himself knows our frame (what we are made of); He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).
Solomon, in speaking of both men and animals, declares, "All came from the dust and all return to the dust" (Eccl. 3:20). He later observes, "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was" (Eccl. 12:7). In Psalm 104, which speaks of the animals, we are informed that the Creator "dost take away their spirit, they expire, and return to their dust" (vs. 29). With regard to the physical composition of man and beast, it is the same. Neither has an advantage over the other in this area (Eccl. 3:19-21). If God should decide to withhold breath/spirit from both, "all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust" (Job 34:15).
"The wordplay between 'adam' and 'adama' (ground, soil) in Gen. 2:7 suggests the relatedness between humanity and the created world" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 615). "There is a wordplay in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2-3 that indicates an intimate relationship between man (adham) and the ground (adhamah). God formed man of dust from the ground (Gen. 2:7; 3:23), made him to till the ground (2:5; 3:23; cf. 2:15), cursed the ground because he sinned (3:17), and decreed that he should return to the ground from whence he came (3:19). The emphasis throughout Genesis 2-3 seems to be on the frailty and transitoriness of all God's creation, whether vegetable, animal, or man" (John T. Willis, The Living Word Commentary: Genesis, p. 102-103). "Our study of the meaning and use of 'flesh--bashar' in the Old Testament shows that the word generally is used to describe the concrete reality of human existence from the perspective of its frailty and feebleness" (Dr. Samuel Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 62).
I imagine there would be little debate between most traditionalists and me over the physical body of man (and by "man" I refer to both male and female -- Gen. 1:27). Our bodies are mortal, and thus subject to death. At some point, unless we are privileged to be alive at the Parousia, we shall die (Heb. 9:27). Thus, our bodies will return to the ground ... dust returning to dust.
The promise of our Lord, however, is that He will awaken us from our "sleep in the dust of the ground" (Daniel 12:2) and we shall be changed, this mortal shall put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:50f), and we shall thus be enabled to forever dwell in the presence of our Lord. The hope of the child of God, therefore, is inextricably linked with the resurrection of the body from the dust of the ground. Without resurrection, either Christ's or our own, we have perished (1 Cor. 15:12-18).
Obviously the physical body is not inherently immortal. Indeed, after the fall, man was barred from the garden and the tree of life (Gen. 3:24) lest he "take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen. 3:22). Thus, the body itself is destined to die (suffer the loss of life; return to the ground). For some (the redeemed) the hope exists of one day awaking and putting on "everlasting life" (Daniel 12:2), but that is yet future. At the present time there is nothing inherently immortal about our physical bodies.
Thus, the traditionalists (those who believe in man's inherent immortality) must search elsewhere for that special "immortal something" that they believe is part of man's makeup. Some assume it is the "spirit" of man that is immortal. Genesis 2:7 declares, "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the BREATH of life; and man became a living being." It is this "breath of life," this "spirit of life," that is proclaimed by some to be immortal, and which consciously survives the death of the physical body.
"In the Hebrew there are two words for breath -- neshamah, and more commonly ruach. In general, they are used interchangeably for 'breath' and 'spirit'" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 36). The Greek word employed is "pneuma."
"In the OT Hebrew 'ruah' means first of all wind and breath, but also the human spirit in the sense of life force and even personal energy. ... It is explicit that God is the source of human breath. ... In the NT Greek 'pneuma' can mean wind. It can also have the meaning breath. ... Both 'spirit' and 'mind' are used of the whole person and not simply of component parts" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1248).
The body of man is animated and sustains life as long as the "breath" dwells within it. In other words, a breathing body is a living body; a body where the breathing has ceased for an extended period is a dead body. God animated the physical body by placing within it the "breath of life." Life is a gift of the Life-Giver. He can also withdraw it. Psalm 104:29, speaking of animals, declares, "Thou dost take away their spirit/breath, they expire, and return to their dust." When the breath departs from the body, the body returns to the dust. Solomon points out that men and beasts "all have the same breath/spirit" (Eccl. 3:19).
This is an interesting fact, and a troubling one, for those who would suggest the "immortal part of man" is the "spirit." Animals have the same spirit!! Thus, if this is the immortal part of man, why not also of the other living creatures? The simple fact of the matter is, when the breath is withdrawn, men and animals die. God is the Giver of this gift of the breath of life, and thus this life-force returns to Him who gave it. "The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit/breath will return to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). This passage does not suggest some "immortal spirit" (which is the real us) flies off to heaven to dwell with God. It merely declares the life-force has departed the body (thus rendering it a dead body). Since God is the Giver of this life-force, it is depicted as returning to Him who bestowed it.
Notice Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the valley of dry bones). The prophet was asked, "Can these bones live?" (vs. 3). Ezekiel didn't really commit himself, so the Lord said of the bones, "Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive" (vs. 5-6). The prophet watched as the bodies were recreated and reformed. "But there was no breath in them" (vs. 8). Then he was told to prophesy, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life" (vs. 9). He did so, and "breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet" (vs. 10). This is almost reminiscent of Gen. 2:7, isn't it? God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living being! The breath is the life-force of the body. Without it the body is dead. And this gift of the breath of life comes from God. "In Him we live and move and exist (have our being)" (Acts 17:28). "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).
It should also be pointed out that "spirit" is not infrequently used in Scripture to represent the less physical aspects of man's being --- personality, emotions, attitude, and the like. Thus, one might be "mean-spirited" or have a broken or contrite spirit (Psalm 51). These terms do not suggest an immortal being trapped inside the body, but merely reflect the mental and emotional aspects of man's nature. "In both the Old and New Testaments, spirit is used of humans and of other beings. When used of humans, spirit is associated with a wide range of functions including thinking and understanding, emotions, attitudes, and intentions. ... Spirit is used extensively with human emotions. ... A variety of attitudes and intentions are associated with spirit" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1300).
Some suggest that Psalm 31:5 ("Into Thy hand I commit my spirit"), which was voiced by Christ on the cross, proves that the "spirit/breath" is the immortal something which survives death, and is that immortal, conscious, personal part of us that lives on with God. However, the "spirit" of both men (good and wicked) and animals is withdrawn unto God. This seems to preclude such dualistic notions (unless you want heaven infested with the "immortal spirits" of rodents!!). All that is suggested by this expression is that the one expiring is entrusting back to God the gift of the breath of life. The confident hope and expectation of such a statement, of course, is that He will raise us back up and bestow the gift of life once again. Paul, as he contemplated his impending death, wrote confidently: "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until/for that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). I think Paul also knew that his breath of life was in good hands, and would one day be bestowed again when his body was raised from the dust of the ground and reconstituted!
"There is no indication in the Bible that the spirit of life given to man at creation was a conscious entity before it was given. This gives us reason to believe that the spirit of life has no conscious personality when it returns to God. The spirit that returns to God is simply the animating life principle imparted by God to both human beings and animals for the duration of their earthly existence" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 74). "Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His breath/spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:3-4).
Well, if it isn't the spirit/breath which is that "immortal something" within us that survives the death of the body, these traditionalists theorize, then it must be the "soul." This is the one that most traditionalists choose as being the immortal part of man. In fact, the expression "immortal soul" has become very common in Christendom. The readers might be surprised to discover, however, that the phrase "immortal soul" NEVER appears in the Bible ... not even once!!
"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living SOUL/being" (Genesis 2:7). Some traditionalists virtually equate this last phrase ("living soul") with "immortal soul." But, that is NOT what the passage says. God put breath within this body and the body became a living being. The exact same words are used of animals in Scripture. Further, the text doesn't say man was GIVEN a soul --- it says man BECAME a soul. Big difference!!
A fellow minister once told me: "The one thing which distinguishes man from monkey is his 'living soul.' To my knowledge this expression is used ONLY of man; I don't find it used of bugs or bulls." Thus, according to this minister, that which makes man unique among the living creation of God is: man has a "living soul," and those other life forms DO NOT. Again, we see this phrase "living soul" incorrectly being equated with "IMMORTAL soul."
It would probably shock a great many to know that the phrase "living soul" is actually used more often in Genesis with reference to animals than with reference to man!! Notice some of these other passages where "living soul" IS used of bugs, bulls, birds and beasts.
Lest you think "poor demented, deluded Al" has REALLY lost it here, let me quote from an article by a well-known and respected scholar in the Churches of Christ: Dr. Jack P. Lewis (who was formerly a professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion). In an article entitled "Living Soul," which appeared in the March 16, 1976 issue of Firm Foundation, he began by quoting Gen. 2:7. Then, he wrote the following (I am only quoting a small portion of that article):
As Dr. Lewis has pointed out, many of the translations (perhaps following the lead of the KJV and its self-proclaimed desire to provide "variety" in translation) have rendered this term "living CREATURE" when it is used of animals, but "living SOUL" when speaking of man. Yet the term is exactly the same for both in the original!!
The word itself simply conveys the concept of "BEING," or "LIFE." When God took this body He had created from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life, that body then BECAME a living, breathing BEING. This is said of both man and animal. And that is ALL the original text says!!! Nothing is ever said in these passages about either man or beast (or bug or bird) being anything other than "living BEINGS."
"Soul" is not what a living, animate physical body HAS, rather "soul" is what a living, animate physical body IS. They cannot be separated. "Body and soul cannot be observed separate from one another. Body and soul do not form two separate substances. Instead, they comprise the one individual human in inseparable union. ... Also in the New Testament body and soul are two inseparable aspects of the one human being -- Matthew 6:25" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 202).
"The Hebrew word nephesh is a key Old Testament term (755 times) referring to human beings. ... A person does not have a soul. A person is a living soul (Gen. 2:7). That means a living being that owes life itself to the Creator just as the animal does (Gen. 2:19). ... The soul does not represent a divine, immortal, undying part of the human being after death as the Greeks often thought" (ibid, p. 1295).
A brother in Christ, John T. Willis, in his commentary on Genesis (Sweet Publishing Company), writes, "The Hebrew expression nephesh chayyah, which some insist on translating 'a living soul,' is used of fish and marine life in Genesis 1:20,21; land animals in 1:24; beasts, birds and reptiles in 1:30; and beasts and birds in 2:19. If 'soul' means the eternal part of man ... in Genesis 2:7, it must mean the eternal part of a fish ... in Genesis 1:20, 21; etc." (p. 103-104). "The word translated 'being' in the RSV (nephesh) means the whole person" (ibid, p. 104).
"While man became a living soul, he did not thereby automatically become an immortal soul, or being. The same Hebrew term, 'living soul,' is applied to the lower animals. In fact, nephesh (soul) is four times applied to the lower animals before it is used of man -- in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30. And out of the first thirteen usages in Genesis, nephesh is nine times used of the lower animals. ... Man BECAME a living soul -- a single entity, an inseparable unit, a unique individual. ... The soul is the living person or being himself, not a separate, independent 'something'" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 34-35, 39).
"Far from referring simply to one aspect of a person, 'soul' refers to the whole person" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1245). This word, like "spirit," can also be used figuratively to refer to the seat of emotions in place of personal pronouns, or to refer to one's entire self/being. It also can refer to life itself. When Jesus spoke of the destruction of both "soul and body" in Gehenna, He was referring to the fact that only God has the power to destroy not only the body, but also the very BEING of a person. Men can only kill the body, but God can always raise it right back up. Only God can so destroy a person's BEING that nothing exists!! Thus, "soul" conveys the idea of not just a physical body, but the very BEINGNESS of the person!! MAN can end another man's "being" temporarily; GOD can end a man's "being" forever!!!
The "soul" is even said to reside in the blood!! "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11). In Gen. 9:4 we are told the "soul" IS the blood. This simply means the LIFE of the body. It in no way speaks of some "immortal something" actually living in the blood, or being the blood. Just as life is connected to breath/breathing, so also is life connected to the coursing of blood through one's veins. Without either the body is dead (a dead soul, not a living soul).
"The word translated 'soul' contains no idea of a spiritual existence. ... Really the word refers to the natural life of animals and men, maintained by breathing, or in some way extracting oxygen from the atmospheric air" (Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1, p. 19). Brother T. Pierce Brown, in an article entitled "Soul and Spirit" (Gospel Advocate, June 14, 1979), wrote, "A consideration of EVERY (emphasis his) passage in which these terms are used leads us to the conclusion that the term 'soul' is a term that was applied in the Bible to every being that normally has sensory capacities (life), whether or not they have that capacity when the term is applied to them. For example, one might see a body of a dead person and say, 'That poor soul is dead.' The Bible uses the term that way, even as we do, and it has nothing at all to do with the immortality or mortality of the soul. It simply means that the PERSON (the one who HAD life -- soul -- sensory capacity) is dead."
"A doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not stated in the Bible and is not clearly defined in early rabbinical literature" (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion). "Summing up, we can say that the expression 'man became a living soul -- nephesh hayyah' does not mean that at creation his body was endowed with an immortal soul, a separate entity, distinct from the body. Rather, it means that as a result of the divine inbreathing of the 'breath of life' into the lifeless body, man became a living, breathing being, no more, no less. The heart began to beat, the blood to circulate, the brain to think, and all the vital signs of life were activated. Simply stated, 'a living soul' means 'a living being'" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 46).
Although the Bible does not teach this doctrine, in 1513 A.D. at the Fifth Lateran Ecumenical Council, the Pope issued a decree (aimed primarily at Luther and his associates) that condemned "all who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal." It was declared that the soul was immortal, and "we declare every assertion contrary to the truth of illumined faith to be altogether false; and, that it may not be permitted to dogmatize otherwise, we strictly forbid it, and we decree that all who adhere to affirmations of this kind of error are to be shunned and punished as detestable and abominable heretics and infidels who disseminate everywhere most damnable heresies and who weaken the Catholic faith."
Brother Curtis Dickinson, a longtime acquaintance, wrote, "The Pope's decree turned many from hope in a resurrection to belief in an immortal soul" (The Witness, Vol. 35, No. 11, November, 1995). Needless to say, this decree brought forth strong opposition from those who sought to teach the truth of the Scriptures. Luther declared it was the Pope, not the Bible, who taught, "the soul is immortal." In his Table Talk Luther declared -- "Now if one should say that Abraham's soul lives with God but his body is dead, this distinction is rubbish. I will attack it. That would be a silly soul if it were in heaven and desired its body!!" William Tyndale (1484-1536), an English Bible translator and martyr, wrote, "And ye, in putting them (the departed souls) in heaven, hell and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection." Tyndale argued that if souls were already in either bliss or misery, "then what cause is there of the resurrection?" And what cause is there even of judgment? In another part of this same writing, Tyndale said -- "The true faith putteth forth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the soul did ever live. And the Pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot agree. And because the fleshly-minded Pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it. If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?"
Yes, the doctrine of "immortal soulism" is a pernicious doctrine of demons, and it undermines some of the basic core doctrines of Christianity. It had its seed in the lie of Satan in the garden and has been perpetuated by pagans and the Catholic hierarchy. Sadly, many even in the Lord's church continue to preach it from the pulpits to precious unsuspecting souls.
In summation, the nature of man is: Body + Breath = Being!! Man is a unified whole, not a conglomeration of distinct, disparate entities. Man IS a living being; man does not POSSESS a living being! Man is entirely mortal in nature; no part of him is inherently immortal, although through God's grace man has the potential and the promise of a conferred immortality in Christ Jesus at the resurrection. The Lord "alone possesses immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16), but if we "seek for immortality" (Rom. 2:7) we shall "put on" immortality (1 Cor. 15:54) after our resurrection from the dust of the ground. For the redeemed of God there is this promise: "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). Our great Savior Jesus Christ has "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher" (2 Tim. 1:10-11). May we each be teachers and preachers of the true nature of man, and the true nature of our hope of immortality, which is in HIM ... not in ourselves.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Your Reflections #31 -- Godly Mockery was another piece very well-done! Your balance is commendable and your heart shines through with constructive intent rather than destructive. Good job!
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