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The Thrilling Adventure of Bible Reading

I’m honored to commend the new book by R. Reed Lessing and Andrew E. Steinmann, Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament, Concordia, 2014.

Here’s my endorsement:

To read the Bible is to risk a thrilling adventure through wild jungles with thunderous cataracts and soaring timbers teeming with life. Some turn its pages like those who would make rain forests into concrete wastelands for billboards and bobos. Others, and we thank God for the likes of Drs. Steinmann and Lessing, come to the forest with a gleaming eye and forward lean, eager to plunge in, to explore the glories and relish the sights and smells and sounds, for there is always more to see. This book will take you on a life-changing expedition through the Book of books. Your guides are as faithful as they are courageous, and you will not regret your time on this excursion with these authors. Enjoy!

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Because He Gave His Son

We transgressed, defiled and raged,
And he gave his son.
For our filth and shame, staining sin,
He sent the pure one.

Bloodied hands and bloodsoaked lands,
The Lamb—he held his tongue,
His blood was spilt; the church was built,
Because he gave his son.

Now free from chains and all your pains
To living waters run
For cleansing life where Jesus reigns,
The risen, ruling Son.

Worthy he of all our praise,
Honored as his name we raise,
Constant through all time he stays,
Jesus all who trust him saves!

—-

From the sermon “This Is How God Loved the World” on John 3:16–21, preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on October 13, 2013.

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How to Grow in Humility: Experience the Greatness of Jesus

Muhammed Ali said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” He also said, “Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

We see the opposite of that pride in John 3 from John the Baptist, and the reason John’s perspective is so different from Ali’s comes down to two things: he knows the identity of Jesus, and he knows the part Jesus plays in God’s plan.

From those realities I make these two assertions about true humility:

1)    True humility results from encountering Jesus, who is true greatness.
2)    True humility arises from knowing the part Jesus plays in God’s big plan.

Two applications: knowing the greatness of Jesus and the part he plays keeps us from thinking that we’re the world’s Savior, and it helps us to know what our own role is and isn’t.

From what the Baptist says in John 3:27–33, we see 15 things that he knew that kept him humble:

1. What can’t be done:

“A person cannot receive even one thing . . .” (John 3:27a)

2. Where gifts come from:

“unless it is given him from heaven” (3:27b).

3. Who he is:

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’” (3:28a)

4. What his role is:

“but I have been sent before him” (3:28b)

5. Who Jesus is:

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom” (3:29a)

6. What his relationship to Jesus is:

“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him” (3:29b)

7. How to respond to Jesus:

“rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (3:29c)

8. What must happen:

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30)

9. Where Jesus is from:

“He who comes from above” (3:31a)

10. What place Jesus occupies:

“is above all. . . . He who comes from heaven is above all” (3:31b, e)

11. Where he, the Baptist, is from:

“He who is of the earth belongs to the earth” (3:31c)

12. How he speaks:

“and speaks in an earthly way” (3:31d)

13. How Jesus speaks:

“He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (3:32a)

14. How Jesus is rejected:

“yet no one receives his testimony” (3:32b)

15. What it means to receive the testimony of Jesus:

“Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (3:33)

Pride comes from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. By recognizing that he is not the Messiah, the Baptist has accepted the fact that he is not Israel’s king, not Israel’s champion, not Israel’s Savior. John knows who he is and who he is not. John also knows what his purpose is. His purpose is to prepare the way for Jesus. John knows his own origin. He is from earth, not heaven. John knows that he has nothing he has not received (1 Cor 4:7), and that whatever he has received has come as a gift from God (John 3:27).

One reason we are not humble is the fact that we have not experienced greatness. We have not encountered majesty, so in our ignorance and lack of experience we begin to think that we are grander and greater than we really are. We begin to overestimate our own importance. This doesn’t happen to John because he has experienced greatness, majesty, authority, incomparability in the person of Jesus. John knows that Jesus is the bridegroom (John 3:29) who comes from above, that is, heaven (3:31).

One manifestation of our pride is the assumption that we will succeed where others have failed. What keeps John from that pride? He knows that there has never been a better witness than Jesus, and “yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32). No one has a better perception of reality than Jesus. No one has more right to be heard than Jesus. No one could communicate more clearly than Jesus. And his testimony was not received.

What do you expect will happen to your testimony? What right do we have to think that we will have more success than Jesus had?

We cannot receive what has not been given. We are not Messiah. We are not from heaven but from earth. We are not the world’s Savior. We were created to reflect the glory of the image of the invisible God. We were made for Jesus, not the other way around. Therefore we should feel what John articulates about himself and Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

From “He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease,” preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on October 27, 2013. 

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What Rowling Said about Dumbledore

I’m sure you’ve heard what J. K. Rowling said about Albus Dumbledore: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

Dumbledore is a hero, one of the good guys through all seven novels. Unlike the way he is portrayed in the movies, Dumbledore is neither bumbling nor weak. He is commanding, authoritative, strong, sure, and only defeated by superior forces, never inferior ones. Dumbledore didn’t die because he made mistakes or because he absentmindedly mismanaged some magic. He died because he laid down his life, playing his appointed part in the outworking of a grand providential plan into which he had remarkable insight.

How do we deal with the information that Rowling has given us? How do we respond to her declaration that she thought of him as gay?

This calls for wisdom.

We should ask, I think, at least two questions: (1) what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire, and (2) what is it that makes Dumbledore a hero? Let’s start with the second first.

Is Dumbledore a hero because he has decided that the desires he feels must be right? Has he concluded that his appetites are to be gratified? Has he chosen what he wants over what he deems right? Has he chosen what is easy or what is true and good? Has he done whatever he wanted to do without concern for how it affects other people? Does he advocate that his impulses, his freedom, and his right to do whatever he wants to do matter more than any consideration of traditional morality or societal standard? Does he demand the right to throw off moral norms and be considered righteous by everyone?

The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who has read the fabulous Harry Potter stories. Dumbledore is a hero not because he has thrown off Christian morality and Christian conceptions of what is good and true and beautiful but because he has embraced them. Dumbledore is a hero because he selflessly opposes evil—moral evil—and the definition of moral evil in the Potter stories corresponds to the definition of moral evil in the Bible. Dumbledore is heroic because he is Christ-like.

There is a character in the Harry Potter stories who has moved beyond traditional morality, who has decided that his appetites are to be gratified, that what he deems right is what must be true, that what he wants he will have without respect for the way it harms others. This character says that there is no good and evil, only power. There is a character who chooses that path, but his name is Voldemort not Dumbledore.

I would suggest, then, that Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction does not take away from our conception of him as a hero but adds to it because it shows us one more way in which Dumbledore has crucified evil, selfish, fleshly desires for the sake of what is morally true, ethically right, lovingly beautiful, and in every way good.

Skeptical of my interpretation of Rowling’s intentions? Need proof? Let’s move from the second question to the first: what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire. We’ll answer this question at two levels: on the surface, then under the surface.

On the surface, Rowling shows us nothing of Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction. That’s why people were shocked when she announced it. Observe: Dumbledore never overtly declares that he is gay. He never says or does anything to identify or define himself in those terms or by his own desires. Dumbledore never evidences a desire for a day when people’s conception of what is “moral” will be different so that he can pursue his impulses without social stigma. Dumbledore never encourages anyone to “transcend” moral norms of acceptable sexual orientation. In fact, I contend that Dumbledore would view that not as transcendent but as transgression, and this is precisely what makes him heroic.

Had Rowling not told us Dumbledore was gay, we would never suspect it. We would have seen Dumbledore as the self-sacrificial, wise, good hero that he is. And we would be right. Now let’s move from the surface, from what we can know from reading the novels for ourselves, below the surface, to what we might suggest about what Rowling shows in the novels now that she has given us this tidbit about her conception of Dumbledore.

I want to make three suggestions here: first, Dumbledore seems to have chosen a life of celibate singleness. Second, Dumbledore seems to take steps to protect himself and others from his own harmful impulses. Third, Rowling is therefore implicitly presenting Dumbledore as a heroic model for how those who struggle with same sex attraction can nevertheless be good and true.

First, Dumbledore has no partner. Rowling indicates that he had a dalliance in his youth, a dalliance that involved a plan to raise up a new world order, likely extending to a redefinition of sexual morality. While Rita Skeeter and other slanderers use Dumbledore’s youthful mistakes to call his character into question, the characters in the novel who see the truth understand that while Dumbledore may have forayed into those waters in his youth, he fled them and spent the rest of his life fighting those floods. Dumbledore seems to have learned from his own past, and he seems to view his youthful involvement with Grindelwald as a mistake. As a result of his own mistakes and his awareness of his own weaknesses, he is prepared to extend mercy, to give second chances to the likes of Rubeus Hagrid and Remus Lupin. He even trusts Severus Snape. Dumbledore is a great man not because he looks at people’s wickedness and trusts them anyway. He is a great man because though aware of people’s past wrong choices, he is willing to give them new chances to make the right choices. I would add that Dumbledore is fully prepared at all times to accept responsibility for his mistakes, for his own wrong choices, and he confesses them and repents. His desire in giving second chances is a desire for others to recognize their own wrongs, turn from them, and do right in the future.

Second, think of the way that Dumbledore protects himself and others from his own weaknesses. In chapter 37 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains to Harry that he distanced himself from Harry to keep Voldemort from exploiting any perception that their “relationship was—or had ever been—closer than that of a headmaster and pupil.” Dumbledore explains that had Voldemort known of his love for Harry, Voldemort would have used Harry against Dumbledore. There is nothing in the book at this point that would lead anyone to the conclusion that Dumbledore might have felt inappropriate, perverse desires mixed with his appropriate love for Harry, but the passage takes on deeper, unstated meaning in light of what Rowling has told us about Dumbledore’s inclination. In fact, what Rowling has told us enables us to see Dumbledore as more heroic, not less. There is not the slightest hint that Dumbledore used his position as headmaster of Hogwarts to gratify his own desire. There is every indication that Dumbledore recognized ways that magic could be used in the service of illicit pleasures and he opposed all such use of magic—think of the way that Dumbledore warned Harry of the temptation presented by the Mirror of Erised.

All this leads me to think that what J. K. Rowling is celebrating is not homosexuality but virtue as traditionally conceived. Virtue is not the redefinition of sexual morality away from biblical norms, away from the dictates of nature. Virtue is the rejection of wicked desire, desire that would lead us away from biblical norms. Virtue is choosing the true, the good, and the right, even if—precisely when!—what we want is the false, the bad, and the wrong. Albus Dumbledore is heroic because he is virtuous, because he is Christ-like, because he is a celibate single who refused and repudiated his own immoral impulses.

In reaction to Rowling’s declaration, “One blogger wrote on a fansite: ‘My head is spinning. Wow. One more reason to love gay men.’” But Rowling herself contrasts Dumbledore with Bellatrix Lastronge. She said of Dumbledore, “he met someone as brilliant as he was and, rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him.” (source). This comparison is instructive: Bellatrix is evil because rather than repudiating what attracted her for the sake of what was right, she abandoned what was right and chose what she desired. Dumbledore did the opposite. Rather than indulge his desire though it was wrong, he crucified his desire and chose to do what was right. That blogger misunderstood. Rowling’s declaration is not “one more reason to love gay men” but one more reason to celebrate and admire those who—whether repentant traitors or werewolves—repudiate their own evil impulses and choose what is good and right instead.

I recommend you read or listen to the books for yourself and hear the wisdom that cries aloud in the street (Prov 1:20).

Postscript: I haven’t read Jerram Barrs’ book yet, but I just saw on Justin Taylor’s blog that Barrs has an appendix in his forthcoming Echoes of Eden entitled “The Outing of Dumbledore.” I’ve been thinking about what Rowling said about Dumbledore since it was first brought to my attention, and seeing that Barrs has an appendix on it spurred me to finish this post. I don’t know what Barrs will say, but this is my take on Rowling’s declaration that in her conception of Dumbledore he felt same-sex attractions.

—-

This post originally appeared at Christianity.com.

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Help on the Way to the New Heavens and Earth

Isaiah 58:11

And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

A text worth memorizing!

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Recovering a Vision: The Presidency of R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Watch this video:

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The Scriptures and the Shrine: On the Keeping of an Authoritative Copy of the Scriptures at the Temple

Some questions have been raised by Charles Halton and T. Michael Law about the suggestion that an authoritative copy of the Scriptures would have been maintained at the temple in Jerusalem, making discussions of the canon unnecessary prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Law tweeted that there is “not a shred of evidence.”

I think there is abundant evidence for this already in the Old Testament, and then the indications that the Scriptures were kept at the shrine continue in extra-biblical Jewish literature.

  • Exodus 40:20, “[Moses] took the testimony and put it into the ark . . .”
  • Deuteronomy 31:9, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.”
  • Deuteronomy 31:24–26, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.'”

This explains why the king was to write a copy of the Torah that would be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The priests had the authoritative scroll and were its stewards.

This process continued after Moses:

  • Joshua 24:25, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. . .'”

And the reality of the Word of God being kept in the temple is attested in Kings:

  • 1 Kings 8:9, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”

This also explains why there was a scroll for Hilkiah to find in the temple in 2 Kings 22. Incidentally, in view of the reference to the “lying pen of the scribes” in Jeremiah 8:8, I would suggest that the significance of the scroll that Hilkiah found was not that it was the only one in existence but that it was the authoritative one that could demonstrate the falsehood of the lies against which Jeremiah contended.

Milton Fisher writes:

“There is now abundant evidence from the ancient Near East of a ‘psychology of canonicity’—viz., a sensitivity to the inviolability of authoritative documents as far back as early second millennium B.C. This will not surprise the careful reader of the Bible. He finds no difficulty in statements that Moses (Deut 31:9ff. [26]), Joshua (Josh 24:25, 26), and Samuel (1 Sam 10:25) placed written covenant documents in the sanctuary, for this paralleled the common practice among surrounding peoples of that day” (Fisher, EBC 1:387).

R. K. Harrison notes

“Such language was also found in Hittite suzerainty treaties, which contained a clause requiring deposition of the text in some secure location so that in subsequent generations the treaty would be available for public reading” (Harrision, ISBE 1:593).

2 Maccabees states that Nehemiah had “founded a library,” probably a reference to the collected canonical Scriptures, and like him Judas Maccabee “collected the books that had been lost on account of the war . . . and they are in our possession.” The text reads as follows:

  • 2 Maccabees 2:13–15, “The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession. So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.”

Roger Beckwith cites texts from Josephus, the Mishna, and the Tosephta on the point that there was “a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple called ‘the Book of Ezra’. This was probably the oldest and most revered copy of all, traditionally believed to have been written by Ezra the Scribe. If the standardization of the Massoretic text was a process which began in Temple times, as it now seems to have been, the existence of the ‘Book of Ezra’ and the other Temple Scriptures probably had much to do with it” (OT Canon of the NT Church, 83–84).

I think this evidence shows that Moses initiated the preservation of God’s word in the ark of the covenant, making the Levitical priests the stewards of the Torah. Later OT texts indicate that God’s authoritative word was kept at the temple, resulting in it being there for Hilkiah to find in Josiah’s day. Ezra’s significance in his return to the land, seen in both Ezra and Nehemiah, included his being “a ready scribe,” one who thoroughly knew the Scriptures and could quickly find his way in them.

What evidence is there that this canonical consciousness seen in the OT texts suddenly disappeared? What evidence is there that the practice of keeping God’s authoritative word at the temple ceased to be a concern of the Jews who lived between Malachi and Jesus?

Arguments from silence based on deductions from fragmentary evidence or translation practices do not overturn the asseverations in 2 Maccabees and Josephus (along with other texts) that there was an authoritative scroll kept at the temple. See Beckwith for full documentation.

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Was There an Old Testament Before the New Testament? A Guest Post from Jason Parry

There is an ongoing debate about when the books of the Old Testament were recognized as Scripture and when, or whether, there was a closed circle of books that were recognized to be inspired by the Holy Spirit prior to the time of Jesus. Related questions include where the additional material found in the Greek translations of books such as Daniel and Esther came from, why it was added, and what this material might indicate about the status of these books.

Jason Parry is doing his dissertation here at SBTS under Peter Gentry on “The Character of the Greek Version of Daniel Attributed to Theodotion.” As we corresponded on his prospectus, I asked his thoughts on the deuterocanonical material in Daniel. His reply was so good I asked him if he would reformat it for a blog post, which he graciously did.

Here’s Jason Parry’s take on the evidence:

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The arguments for textual pluralism and literary development of biblical texts in Hellenistic Judaism, and for standardization of the text and formation of the Hebrew canon in the second century AD, often seem impressive because much evidence can be cited to demonstrate that the Jews were developing various versions of biblical texts in the period prior to the second century AD.

The Old Greek version of Daniel, for example, not only departs significantly from the MT in several chapters, but even inserts an apocryphal side-story right into the middle of the plot in chapter 3. The Greek version of Daniel attributed to Theodotion is much closer to the MT than the Old Greek version, but nevertheless retains this apocryphal story found in the Old Greek.

The fact that the translators felt free to deviate from the Hebrew-Aramaic text and to insert apocryphal material could be considered evidence that textual pluralism was in the air and that no canonical boundaries were known to these translators.

However, this same evidence could be interpreted differently.  It is possible that the translators were well aware of a standard, authoritative version of the text and of canonical boundaries, but felt free to deviate from that canonical text on account of its official preservation at the Temple. The goal of the Temple scribes was to preserve the authoritative textual tradition of the canonical text in its original language, while the scribes and translators outside of Temple circles were free to develop popular alternative versions of the texts which potentially deviated from the original in language, narrative style, and even in some content, with the goal of appealing to the Jewish and Gentile masses. The distinction between the standard canonical text and the popular deviating versions was not subject to confusion in the period prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, since the standard text was in all probability stored at the Temple.

The latter explanation of the textual plurality of the Hellenistic period is more probable than the claim of a late date for the standardization and canonization of the text, because it accounts not only for the evidence of multiple versions of texts, but also for the evidence of a canonical consciousness prior to the second century AD.

Thus the fact of textual plurality does not necessarily imply a philosophy of textual pluralism among Hellenistic Jews, since they could simultaneously preserve a canonical textual tradition at the Temple while producing accessible and appealing popular texts for the masses. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, however, the Jews had to become more intentional about articulating their canonical boundaries and guarding their textual tradition in order to avoid confusion between the two types of texts.

My understanding of the period, then, could be summarized as follows:

2nd/1st century BC – Diverse Jewish groups, some of whom (like OG-Dan) are interested in popularizing the stories and texts and creating new literature which was loosely connected to the canonical material.  Perhaps this reflects a “seeker-friendly” approach to promoting Judaism. Other Jews are more interested in preserving the textual tradition and sticking close to the proto-MT. The official canonical texts are guarded in the Temple so there’s no confusion as to what’s what in any case.

Late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD – At least some Jews are editing their Greek texts towards the proto-MT, the prime example of which is the oft-cited Greek Minor Prophet Scroll from Nahal Hever which Barthélemy published and analyzed in Les Devanciers d’Aquila. The scroll can be dated to the 50 BC to AD 50 range.  However, there’s probably still a willingness to retain apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) material during this period, which has become popular in the preceding two centuries, and there’s still no confusion as to the official text since the Temple is standing. Theodotion, or at least the Greek version attributed to him, probably belongs to this period.

Late 1st century AD and 2nd century AD – Jews as a whole become more intentional about declaring their canonical boundaries and textual tradition since the Temple is lost and the Christians are gaining ground using Jewish writings and Scripture. The Jews discuss their canonical boundaries by asking themselves which books have always been in their canon; these discussions were previously unnecessary because the canonical text had been stored at the Temple.  The Temple text presumably is preserved from destruction in AD 70 and is handed down to become what we now call the MT.

It is thus possible to account for diversity and even literary development in biblical texts of Hellenistic Judaism without abandoning the long-held belief that our MT for the most part preserves a reliable tradition from before the Hellenistic period.

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George Eldon Ladd’s Response to Postmillennialism

One of the early “four views” books was edited by Robert G. Clouse and titled The Meaning of the Millennium.

George Eldon Ladd represented the historic premil position, Herman A. Hoyt dispensational premillennialism, Loraine Boettner postmillennialism, and Anthony A. Hoekema amillennialism. Each contributor responds to the presentations made by each of the others, and typically the responses are 3-4 pages. The exception is Ladd’s reply to Boettner’s argument for postmillennialism, which is a mere two paragraphs and 147 words. The first sentence is telling, but I here reproduce the whole of Ladd’s response:

‘There is so little appeal to Scripture that I have little to criticize. The argument that the world is getting better is a two-edged sword. One can equally well argue from empirical observation that the world is getting worse. In New Testament times, civilization enjoyed the great Pax Romana—two centuries when the Mediterranean world was at peace. This has never been repeated. Our lifetime has seen two worldwide wars and an unending series of lesser wars—in Korea, Vietnam, the Near East, Ireland, Lebanon. We have witnessed the rise of Nazism with its slaughter of six million Jews, the rise and fall of fascism, the rise and stabilization of Communist governments. The world today is literally an armed camp.

Boettner makes the mistake of defining premillennialism in terms of dispensationalism. As my chapter shows, I do not pursue the literalistic hermeneutic attributed to ‘premillennialists’ by Boettner.’

That’s all Ladd has to say about it!

I submit that any advance postmillennialism may be making today is attributable entirely to the florid prose of Douglas Wilson. There is no biblical warrant for it.

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Jesus and the Old Testament in John 3:1–15

John presents Jesus claiming to fulfill the Old Testament in dense and various ways in John 3:1–15:

  • He claims to bring in the promised kingdom of God (3:3, 5).
  • He claims to bring the cleansing and renovation of attitude prophesied in Ezekiel 36:24–26 through the new birth (3:5–6).
  • He claims that this renewal partakes of the resurrection blowing of the Spirit prophesied in Ezekiel 37:1–14 (3:8).
  • He claims to be the ascending and descending son of the one who is in heaven from Proverbs 30:4 (3:13).
  • He claims to be the Daniel 7:13–14 son of man (3:13–14).
  • He claims to be the servant who acts wisely who will be exalted from Isaiah 52:13 (3:14).
  • He claims to be the typological fulfillment of the bronze serpent from Numbers 21:4–9 (3:14).

Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament.
Jesus fulfills the prophecies.
Jesus matches and exceeds what was typified.
Archetype and resolution of the patterns,
Interpreter of mysteries and himself the solution of them,
Jesus is the culmination of the centuries and the telos of the ages.
Worship him. Love him.
Commit your soul to him and make him your destiny, your purpose, your life’s agenda and meaning.

There is nothing better than what Jesus has done.
There is nothing better than what Jesus makes possible.
There is nothing more powerful that could happen to us than this new birth he brings.
Cleansing from sin with its pure water.
Soul-renewing change at the very spirit of who you are.
Holy Spirit divine power to bring to pass this purifying renewal.
No lack of ability in the Spirit.
No impure motive or purpose at work in what he does.
No possibility of him failing.

Behold the glory of Jesus. Trust him. Be born again.
Forgiveness for all your sin.
Cleansing from all its stain.
Freedom from all its power.
Qualified to see and enter the kingdom.
Enabled to live not just in the flesh but in the sphere of the Spirit.
Illumined to understand the Scriptures.
Given eternal life.
Won’t you believe?
Won’t you savor?
Won’t you hope?
Won’t you cling to these words until the Day?
He is worthy.

–From the conclusion of “You Must Be Born Again” on John 3:1–15, preached at Kenwood Baptist Church on September 29, 2013. For more on what John presents Jesus saying about the new birth, have a listen, or check out the discussion of the passage in God’s Indwelling Presence.

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Despite Doubt by Mike Wittmer

Mike Wittmer is one of my favorite theologians. Heck he’s one of my favorite people. So I’m glad to see that he continues to find ways to say Don’t Stop Believing, the latest being a new book entitled Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith.

Here’s a trailer for the book:

Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith by Michael E. Wittmer from Discovery House Publishers on Vimeo.

Mike has preached a sermon with this title. I suspect Mike’s preaching will strengthen your confidence and bring a smile to your face.

This is a short book of short chapters. Despite Doubt will speak to those wrestling with big questions and seeking to know the truth.

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Gospel Transformation Bible Releases Today

Dane Ortlund has the details on the most important thing you’ll see online today: the release of the Gospel Transformation Bible.

I’m eager to consult these notes and grateful for Crossway.

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Coloring Pages for The Bible’s Big Story

The more senses we involve in an activity, the more we learn. I am delighted that Christian Focus has posted three “coloring pages” from The Bible’s Big Story. Here’s hoping these will bring tactile delight and result in deeper awareness of the world’s true story, a story of sin, promise, and triumphant redemption.

We print coloring pages from the web all the time in our house. Now you can print the following three pages, and your little ones can work some crayola magic on them:

Adam and Eve

Abraham and Sarah

David and Goliath

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John Meade Reviews T. Michael Law

John Meade is doing a multi-part review of T. Michael Law’s book, When God Spoke Greek. At one level neither Law’s claims nor Meade’s response is new. At another level, these questions are constantly being re-examined, and the re-hashing of the debate can bring things into sharper focus. Like Martin Hengel and Lee Martin McDonald, T. Michael Law claims there was no OT canon prior to the second century AD. Like Robert Hanhart and Roger Beckwith, Meade responds that the evidence can be read another way. Here are some excerpts from Meade, with whom I agree:

“As stated in the first post, Michael Law set out to write a narrative history of the Septuagint, a worthwhile endeavor to say the least. So much goes into writing a history but the first obstacle one must face is that the facts are not self-interpreting. To be sure Law no where claims that they are, but it should be stated in a critique which is going to offer an alternative way of analyzing the data.”

—-

“Law portrays the forming and perhaps closing of the Hebrew Bible as occurring in the 2nd CE. This is not a new view and can be found in many manuals on the Old Testament. As one attempting to read Law’s book carefully, the question is does Law deny even a canonical consciousness or a developing canon in the period before the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE? In the book he does not admit of a canonical consciousness in the the preceding period, but I am open to correction on this point. In his recent blog post on the question he does treat some of the relevant evidence but he still does not speak of a canonical consciousness or developing canon. Here is the problem with Law’s view: during the time of Jesus and long before Jesus the Jews refer to a collection or corpus of books, which means they had at the very least some consciousness of their collection and what that final collection might be; an idea of which books would eventually be in and which books would eventually be out. The assumption is that the authors and readers shared a mutual understanding of what these titles denoted. The alternative assumption is that the author wrote nonsense when using these titles and therefore the titles do not refer to a set collection or corpus of books and therefore they do not communicate to the readers. The following are only the so-called tripartite titles (there are many single and bipartite titles which refer to the same reality as well)”

Meade here discusses evidence from Ben Sira, 4QMMT, the NT Gospels, and Philo, mentioning also Josephus, drawing two conclusions:

“(1) What does this evidence mean? On page 71 Law comments on Sirach, “‘The other ancestral books,’ according to this assumption [complete Hebrew Bible by 132 BCE], would be the Writings (Ketuvim). Most scholars, however, do not accept this hypothesis since the ‘other ancestral books’ could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical. At best it seems that the Torah and Prophets might have been a known collection by this time, but we should not read this statement in the Prologue as a confirmation of the later canon of the Hebrew Bible” (WGSG, 71). At the opening of chapter 3 (cited at the top of this post), Law claimed that prior to the second century CE there was no way of knowing which books would be included in the collection. Here his skepticism recedes, however slightly, and he now holds out the possibility that Torah and Prophets (and on page 42, the Psalms) were already a collection and perhaps canonical by the end of the first century. If Hanhart’s reading of the Prologue is correct, as I am inclined to think, then there was already a categorization of books into canonical and non-canonical, Sirach already being one of the excluded books–a work of edification and reflection on the Law, Prophets, and other books. This would mean that by 132 BCE there is at least a developing canon or a canonical consciousness, not simply in retrospect but in prospect. Prospectively, then, the Jews had a view as to which books they considered canonical.

(2) Two ways to view the evidence? As in all matters historical, there are different ways to view the evidence. The titles for the Old Testament corpus of books indicate to me that there was at the very least a canonical consciousness, a recognized corpus of books by 132 BCE and more probably a closed canon by that time complete with a categorization of the canonical and non-canonical. There are more reasons such as the numbering of the books and the ordering of the books which corroborate this point. Part of the historian’s difficulty is that there are not allot of sources to examine from this period. There is no list of books from this early period. This fact does not mean there was no canon. In the period of the temple there would have been no need for a list of books since those books were all laid up in the temple following ancient precedent (cf. Deuteronomy 31:26; cp. 2 Maccabees 2:13-14). If a Jew during this early period wanted to know her holy books, she would need to go and inquire at the temple. Therefore there is a good reason why no such list was composed at this time–it was not needed. It is interesting that the first lists appear after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b).”

The whole.

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Mr. Leithart Comes to Louisville

Peter Leithart is one of the most stimulating and well-rounded scholars of the present generation. He and his wife have 10 children, and he pastors Trinity Reformed Church and teaches at New Saint Andrews College.

He has written more books than I’ve had time to read, but I’ve enjoyed his introduction to the Old Testament, his commentary on 1–2 Samuel, his book on hermeneutics, and his biography of Dostoevsky.

The wide-ranging oeuvre broadens apace: he has defended Constantine, written on Athanasius, Jane Austen, Dante, Shakespeare, and more.

How many details he must have forgotten!

I am really excited that he’s coming to Louisville. He’ll be at Community Presbyterian Church doing a conference with Jeff Meyers November 1, 2, and 3 of 2013.

Leithart will be doing an introduction to postmodernism, and Meyers will teach on Ecclesiastes. The conference is entitled, Solomon Among the Postmoderns, drawn from yet another Leithart book title.

You can register here.

I hope to see you there!

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How To Use “The Bible’s Big Story”: Dads, Step Up and Play the Man

Do you know what I’m trying to accomplish with The Bible’s Big Story?

I want you to win the hearts of your children.
I want you to win them through the time you spend with them.
I want you to start when they’re so small they can’t yet climb off your lap and crawl around.
I want you to read to them, and I want you to read to them about the highest and most important things: the Lord, the gospel, the true story of the world in the Bible.

So more than just winning their hearts, I want you to win your kids to the Lord. My prayer is that the big story of the Bible will capture their imagination, that the high King would lay claim to their allegiance, that they would trust him from deepest recess of soul.

I’m trying to help parents–and I really have dads in my crosshairs–obey Deuteronomy 6:7. The ESV translates that verse as follows: “You shall teach them [these words that I command you today, v. 6] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

That phrase “you shall teach them diligently” could also be rendered “you shall repeat them constantly.”

This verse calls fathers to do two things: 1) repeat the Bible constantly to their children, and 2) discuss it with them.

That’s your basic recipe for family discipleship, and I’m trying to help you do it by starting when your children are sitting there on your lap looking at picture books with you.

[Here's a longer discussion of family discipleship interpreting Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs: “That the Coming Generation Might Praise the Lord,”].

Make no mistake about it: Satan is prowling around like a lion wanting to devour your child. You can’t outsource their discipleship. They need you. Particularly you, Dad.

The other day my wife was telling me how it’s harder for my kids to get to sleep when something has me out of the house and I’m not part of the bedtime routine of family devotions. Without me there, she finds the kids to be more fussy and fearful. She said to me: “Don’t underestimate daddypower.”

Dad’s, I’m calling you to step up.
I’m calling you, fathers, to read to your kids.
I’m calling you to be a man, to take the responsibility God has placed at your feet in the Scriptures.

This is bigger than any free throw you ever shot, bigger than any at-bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run in scoring position. This is more important than twitter and blogs and books and news. We’re talking about your kids.

We’re talking about whether you will lay the foundation when they’re small that will put you in position to be heard and heeded when you start warning them against the snares of the devil–snares of porn and predators and pushers. How do you lay that foundation? By establishing yourself as their father in the formative years. Before they start walking, you’re holding them, teaching them what the world is–what it’s for, what life is about.

Step up, dads. For the sake of your children, for the respect of your wife, for your own Christlikeness, for the glory of God, for the church in the generations to come. By all that you love, by all that is holy, in the name of the Lord Jesus, let us take up the solemn charge to train our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Disciple your children.

Play the man. Repeat the Bible constantly to your kids and discuss it everywhere you go, when they get out of bed in the morning, when they go to bed at night, when at home, when out and about (cf. Deut 6:7).

Their souls depend upon it, and if you’re in ministry, your qualification depends upon it.

So how can you use The Bible’s Big Story in your efforts to fulfill the role God has given to you and play the man? (cf. 1 Cor 16:13–14)

Here are some suggestions, following the basic outline of Deuteronomy 6:7, to 1) Repeat and 2) Discuss, and I’m adding the third step of 3) Do It Yourself to get at the idea that is clearly the goal of the repetition and discussion Moses prescribed in Deuteronomy 6:7–living out the Bible. Moses wasn’t calling for Hebrew households to become seminar rooms or discussion forums. He wanted fathers to repeat the Bible to their children and discuss its meaning with them so that they would live out faith and obedience for God’s glory.

Here’s how you can use The Bible’s Big Story to lay the foundation of you being the most influential person in your child’s life. Here are some steps you can take on the path of winning their hearts:

Repeat

1. Read the poem straight through. On each page there is a rhyming couplet and a Bible verse, and this first recommendation is to skip the Bible verses and just read the rhyming couplets of this book. These rhymes comprise one unified poem. By reading the whole poem over and over straight through, the idea is for both you and your little one to find that you have the thing memorized. The poem is intended to be a high-level overview of the whole story (thus its title, The Bible’s Big Story), and my hope is that it will serve as a roadmap for Bible reading.

So read the poem straight through. This is how you read most children’s books, and in this recommendation I’m encouraging you to read the poetry by itself and save the Bible verses on each page for other kinds of trips through the book.

2. Repeat. Maybe your experience is like mine, and you find yourself saying to your toddler: “we just read that book.” On those second and third readings, go more slowly through the pages, and these are the times to read the verses.

Discuss

3. Got a toddler and other kids under the age of 10? We do, and often the older ones gather round as we read to the younger. When this starts happening, don’t just read, discuss. Ask the older kids to tell you more about the pictures and the stories they depict.

4. Talk about what happens between the lines. This little book is only 24 pages. Most of the Bible’s events and teachings are not depicted. Ask your child if they know what happened before or after what’s on a particular page. Let the things depicted in this book be your landmarks, and more and more sketch in the details between the landmarks.

Do It Yourself

These suggestions can be adapted to the age and aptitude of your child.

5. Assuming that you have access to a photocopier (three in one printers are everywhere these days), photocopy a page in black and white and let your child use it as a coloring page.

6. Have your child reproduce the pictures in the book using tracing paper.

7. The next step after tracing paper is of course for your kids to draw their own versions of the pictures in the book, whether reproducing the book’s pictures or doing the scene a different way, or the previous event . . . you get the idea.

8. At our family gatherings, the cousins sometimes do drama presentations. Why not use The Bible’s Big Story for the family (or church) Christmas drama your kids produce. Have them memorize the lines and say them as they act out the story. Get costumes. Make it a yearly tradition at Christmas or easter. Go whole-hog (even if you’re an LSU fan).

9. Are there families of small children whose parents you’re shepherding or discipling? At $4.99, this is a pretty affordable discipleship tool, birthday gift, or party favor. Let me assure you: my goal is not selling more copies or making a name for myself. I want to love God and neighbor. I want God to be glorified as you win the hearts of your kids, as your friends win the hearts of their kids, as fathers establish themselves in the lives of their kids by obeying Deuteronomy 6:7, as families grow in their understanding of the Scriptures together, as disciples are made of all nations.

10. Are there unbelieving family members, friends, or others who sometimes read to your kids? Put this book on the top of the pile. Unbelievers who read this book will be exposed to the big story of the Bible and an exhortation to trust the Lord Christ. I hope and pray The Bible’s Big Story can be a natural evangelistic experience for your unbelieving neighbors, friends, or family members.

These are of course, merely suggestions, and they’re not exhaustive. Have some other ideas? Please do share them in the comments (or post them somewhere–I’d love to know to your thoughts. . .). The main thing is for us to know God by knowing the Bible, and helping you and your kids do that is what I’m after in The Bible’s Big Story.

Look around.
Darkness clouds the horizon.
The culture grows more and more hostile to Christians and Christianity.
Take action.
Redeem the time.
Disciple your kids.

Dads, your wife and children are yours to protect and lead. Play the man.

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A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians (Free Download)

My sweet wife led the ladies of Kenwood Baptist Church through a study of 1 Thessalonians this summer, and she prepared study questions that prompt a close, meditative examination of Paul’s letter and one’s own heart. This study is geared for women, but I think anyone would profit from reflecting on these questions over an open Bible.

Is there a women’s ministry at your church? Are you part of a Ladies’ Study Group? A group of women in a campus ministry? There are all kinds of settings in which this could be used. Maybe there are some co-workers with whom you could meet for a 5-week study of 1 Thessalonians?

I am so blessed by the gift of my wife. Words can’t communicate what she is to me. I’m glad that other people might benefit from her prayerful preparation of this Bible study, which you can download for free here:

A Bible Study for Women on 1 Thessalonians.

PS: besides being the best theologian I know–there’s no one with whom I’ve had more enjoyable conversations about the Bible, theology, and life–my sweet wife has an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is

Lindsay Kennedy interviewed three folks on questions related to dispensationalism and the millennium. The Dispensationalist is Paul Henebury (part 1 and part 2). Darrell Bock represents Progressive Dispensationalism, and I answered questions from the perspective of Historic Pre-Millennialism.

We all answered similar questions. Here are the ones I answered:

  1. When and how did you first become interested in eschatology?
  2. You studied at Dallas, which has a strong history of dispensationalism. How influential was Dallas on your theology? Did you ever hold to dispensationalism?
  3. In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?
  4. What would you see as some distinctive aspect(s) of your view (Historic Premillennialism)?
  5. What do you believe about the rapture and its timing in relation to the second coming of Christ?
  6. What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?
  7. What is the purpose of the future Millennium?
  8. Other than the Bible, were there any influential authors/books in developing your current eschatological views?
  9. Do you have any publications that best represent your position more fully than this interview allows?
  10. How important should eschatology be to the Christian?
  11. What encouragement would you give to someone who sees eschatology as unimportant?

Replies here.

I found it interesting that just as Lindsay asked me why I’m not a dispensationalist, he asked Bock to differentiate his view from the others and to explain why he stuck with dispensationalism. Here’s the exchange:

What are the differences between your view, Progressive dispensationalism (PD), and traditional dispensationalism? Why do these differences matter?

These are catalogued in the book Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. The key one is the continuity PD (Progressive Dispensationalism) sees in the Covenants and that all three are inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming. For example, Jesus’ seating and activity at God’s right hand is seen as the execution of messianic activity that is tied to the New Covenant (as his seating is a part of the Davidic covenant).

This also has meant the Gospels and prophets become more important for contemporary ethics than they were in some older forms of dispensationalism (I say older forms because there is not just one brand of traditional dispensationalism but several). So that is why the difference matters.

If you see problems with traditional dispensationalism, why seek to adapt it rather than simply adopting Historic Premillennialism as others have done?

Because there is a distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program that Historic Premillennialism equivocates about. PD is also clearer on a future for national Israel.

I don’t think of myself as equivocating in the way I understand the relationship between the church and Israel, but I think I can see how it might look like it from Bock’s perspective. Anyway, here are a couple related questions Lindsay asked me:

In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?

Because as I read G. E. Ladd’s New Testament Theology, it made sense to me when he said that Jesus chose twelve Apostles to reconstitute a new Israel around himself. That undermined the hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church that dispensationalism maintains. Further overturning this distinction is the pervasive way in which the New Testament authors present what Jesus has done and is doing in the church as the typological fulfillment of the Old Testament, which means that the church is a typological fulfillment of Israel (this does not nullify a future for ethnic Israel). I think Dispensationalism puts blinders on people and keeps them from seeing the typological interpretations of earlier Scripture pursued by the biblical authors in the Old and New Testaments.

Then I studied Revelation as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied Daniel as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied through and preached Revelation again as I wrote Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, and I became convinced that dispensationalists are not interpreting Daniel’s seventieth week the way that John does in Revelation. The emphasis on literal fulfillment fails to account for the typological and symbolic ways later biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture.

People (not just dispensationalists) make rules about how to interpret the Bible, but the biblical authors don’t follow those rules. So I don’t hold to or teach those rules. I want to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. That’s what I’m seeking as I pursue the task of biblical theology. I’m not claiming that I’ve exhaustively mapped this new world, but what a privilege to explore it and try to help others find their way in it!

What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?

I think Romans 11:25–27 indicates that on the day that Christ returns there will be a mass conversion of ethnic Jews.

That reference to mapping and exploring a new world comes out of my view of biblical theology as a bridge, or a rocket, into another kind of world, the world as conceived by the biblical authors. On which, see further What Is Biblical Theology?

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Biblical Theology in a Children’s Book? Introducing the Bible’s Big Story

I remember the first time someone presented to me, all at one shot, an overview of the Bible’s big story. It was in the famous Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics class taught by Howard Hendricks and Mark Bailey at Dallas Seminary. That overview was so exciting to me I thought all Christians should go to seminary, because all Christians should be able to see the Bible’s inter-connectedness. What was so compelling about that presentation was the way it attempted to set out the big picture, the whole Bible, with its turning points and movements in thought (and, in that telling, changes in dispensations). To that point in my life, I had never been presented with an explanation of the whole story.

I’m convinced that the Bible does tell a unified story, that the later biblical authors were aware of earlier Scripture, and that they were consciously contributing to the developing revelation of himself God was giving. There is a big story in the Bible, and you shouldn’t have to go to seminary to hear about it! What if you could read it to your kids–in less than 5 minutes for less than $5–right there in your rocking chair?

Children’s books can be great fun to read and re-read to the kids–if they’re well written (I love the language in Little Cricket’s Song) and/or tell a great story (we never tire of Fool Moon Rising). Some of these books my wife and I are able to recite from memory. Children’s books can have a profound impact on parents: Tom Schreiner once said in a sermon at Clifton Baptist Church that Goodnight Moon was his favorite. That book has great rhythm.

A few years ago I felt led to select what I thought were the signposts at the major turning points, in the Bible’s big story, try to set them in rhyming couplets, and see if the result might become a children’s book. The goal was to produce something that would help parents and kids remember the high points of the whole story. There is value in being able to see the whole thing all at once, to behold about the unity of the Bible, and to cut a path through the neurons and synapses that will be walked and re-walked, run and re-run. We want to cut the Bible grooves deep in our brains, and we can do this with the wee ones as we read and re-read to them.

My oldest son was the original artist on the project, which we worked on together when he was four and five years old. I would ask him to draw a picture, not give him instructions beyond telling him about the event from the Bible that I wanted him to depict. He would bring the picture back, and I would scan it in and format it with the rhymes I had come up with. A few years ago (after we had been turned down by a couple publishers) I posted the result of our joint efforts.

Upon seeing that post, some friends encouraged me to continue to seek publication. There was a guy in Australia I’ve never met, my friend John Thacker offered to help in any way he could, my friend Adam Richardson cheered the project on, and Andy Naselli told me that his daughter loved to have the book read to her. So I mentioned it to a friend at Christian Focus, who gave me the name of the contact person there, and off we sent it again. Praise God, they decided to publish it, with new drawings by Tessa Janes, and recently hard copies arrived on our doorstep.

I’m not sure how all this works, but apparently the UK release date is about a month earlier than the USA release date, so I’m guessing that I’ve received advanced UK release copies. I’m assuming that means that it will be available in the US near the end of August or beginning of September (Amazon has the date of September 10).

My hope is that if you have little children, you will read many many books to them. I also hope you’ll read this one to them over and over, to the point that both you and your child have the rhymes memorized, which will enable you to take a mental stroll through the Scriptures, which I hope will enable you to meditate on them day and night, so you can be one of those trees whose leaf won’t wither.

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