Jesus is God, But Became Flesh

By COGwriter

Does the Bible teach that Jesus is God? What was He when He was on earth? What did early Christian leaders think?

This brief article will cover a few first century (mainly from the New Testament) and second century writings to see what the early Christian church taught on this subject.

The New Testament

In the New Testament, John begins by making the divinity of Jesus clear when he wrote,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:1-3 NKJV unless otherwise specified).

Thus the Word was God and was with God. And the Word, Jesus, is a lot like the Father, notice that Jesus became flesh:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

An important point to notice is that this shows that Jesus was God and that He actually became flesh--scripture does not state that He remained fully God on the earth. It should probably be mentioned that those with a unitarian view believe this should be translated differently, but that does not change the totality of the scriptures on this subject.

Jesus taught, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30), which totally contradicts the unitarian position that Jesus is not now God (so does John 1, but that is another issue which they tend to dispute).

Matthew, who quoted Isaiah 7:14, also made Jesus' deity clear, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us" " (Matthew 1:23)--Jesus thus has to now be God or He would not be named "God with us"!

Notice what occurred after the resurrection:

And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:28-29).

Not only did Thomas call Jesus God, Jesus' statements confirmed the correctness of Thomas' assertion (which happened after the resurrection).

Also after the resurrection, Paul specifically stated,

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus clearly believed He was equal with God the Father as Paul points out,

Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God (Philippians 2:5b-6).

Paul also taught,

But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom (Hebrews 1:8).

Hence Paul says that the Son is God. Also, since Paul is quoting from Psalm 45, it is clear then, that this duality and Christ's deity was also taught in the Old Testament (Psalm 45:6-7).

But the Father is Greater

Although somewhat by definition, a father is above a son, Jesus made it clear that His Father was greater than He was. Specifically Jesus taught:

My Father is greater than I (John 14:28).

While we are not told how the Father is greater than the Son, the fact that Jesus said that the Father was greater than He was proves that they are not exactly equal. That the Son is subordinate to the Father.

I believe that one of the reasons that the Father sent the Word to the earth was that the Father wanted to make the Word greater. One verse that seems to confirm this is Hebrews 5:8-9:

He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Notice that somehow, being on earth helped perfect the Son. The Greek expression translated "perfected" means to be made complete. Or in other words, it is possible that the Father loved the Word so much that He sent Him to earth as human so that the Word would become greater than He had been. That would be consistent with the actions of a God of love--He would want to share His love and His glory.

Also notice that Jesus also stated:

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Thus, Jesus is telling us that the Father is perfect and to be like Him. And in Hebrews 5:8-9 we saw that being on earth helped perfect Jesus--make Him even closer to the Father than He had been before.

Unitarians and Adoptionists

Unlike binitarians and trinitarians, some traditional unitarians teach that Jesus did not exist prior to His human birth.

One such example is this by Wayne Atcheson,

The Biblical Confession Is That Christ Did Not Preexist (Atcheson, Wayne. The Confession of 1 John 4:2 Is That Christ Did Not Preexist. Association for Christian Development's The One God Seminar. Tyler, Texas July 25–27, 2003).

However, Paul strongly disputed this when he was inspired to write,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:15-17).

Jesus also denied this unitarian assertion when He stated, "What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?" (John 6:62), as heaven is where He came from (3:13).

Furthermore, Jesus was forordained to redeem humans before the foundation of the world. Notice what Peter, Paul, and John wrote:

... you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:18-20).

He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:26-28).

... the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

More on unitarianism is discussed in the article Was Unitarianism the Teaching of the Bible or Early Church?

"Adoptionists" tend to not believe that Jesus pre-exist as God, but this is false. Here are a couple of definitions:

Adoptionist: One of a sect which maintained that Christ was the Son of God not by nature but by adoption. (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.)

adoptionism, Christian heresy taught in Spain after 782 by Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo, and Felix, bishop of Urgel (Seo de Urgel). They held that Jesus at the time of his birth was purely human and only became the divine Son of God by adoption when he was baptized. Variations of this doctrine had been held as early as the 3d cent. by the Theodotians , Paul of Samosata , and by the Nestorians. (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press).

Jesus did pre-exist as God and one was the Son of God prior to His baptism.

The Second Century Writers Taught That Jesus is God

Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and also God according to various Christian and professing Christian writers of the second century. And they also taught that He always had existed.

In "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 102)--outside those in the Bible--sometimes erroneously referred to as Second Letter of Clement, it seems to support binitarianism. It was given perhaps with a year or so of John's death (thus may be towards the end of the time of Ephesus), begins with the following:

Brothers, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as "Judge of the living and the dead" (An Ancient Christian Sermon (2 Clement), 1:1. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 107)

Polycarp of Smyrna, in the mid-second century, wrote:

But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who "raised Him from the dead (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Chapter 12 modified by R. Thiel to correct omission in translation).

For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist (Polycarp, Chapter VII. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead (Polycarp, Chapter IX. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Also, Ignatius, who was known by Polycarp (and praised in this same Polycarp epistle, which is known as Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians), wrote around 108-120 A.D.,

For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God's plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized so that by His submission He might purify the water (Ignatius of Antioch, Letters to the Ephesians 18,2--note this is translated the same by at least three separate translations as done by Dr. Lightfoot, J.H. Srawley, and Roberts & Donaldson).

Melito of Sardis wrote:

For the deeds done by Christ after His baptism, and especially His miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise...He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before all ages (Melito. On the Nature of Christ. From Roberts and Donaldson).

These are the apparent positions of all groups that I am aware of that profess any form of Christianity, except those that are unitarian or affiliated with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus, early Christians believed and taught that Jesus is God. Regarding Melito's statement about the Deity hidden in Christ's flesh after baptism, recall that Jesus taught that it was the Father in Him that did the works, and hence it was not Jesus' deity that did them (John 14:10).

Even heretics in the second century, like Irenaeus, realized that Jesus was God. Notice excerpts from two of Irenaeus' writings:

...there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book IV, Preface, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus then the Word of God in all things hath the pre-eminence; for that He is true man and Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God. Jesus the Anointed of God, showing Himself to be the One who was proclaimed beforehand by the prophets (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).

Jesus Became Human

Some serious students of the Bible understand that Jesus was not "fully human and fully God", which is a major position held by most trinitarians.

There are four major claims to support that position:

1. The Bible shows that Jesus emptied Himself of His Divinity while in the flesh. 2 Corinthians 8:9 teaches that Jesus became poor, yet God is rich (Haggai 2:8). Philippians 2:7 specifically teaches, "...Christ Jesus, who subsisting in (the) form of God thought (it) not robbery to be equal to God, but emptied Himself, taking (the) form of a slave, becoming in (the) likeness of men" (Literal translation. Green J.P. ed. Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, 3rd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 1996, p. 607). Note that "emptied Himself" is the literal translation in the Greek. Thus Jesus was not fully God (though God in the flesh) when He became a human.

2. Since Jesus repeatedly taught that He of Himself "could do nothing" prior to His resurrection (John 5:19,30;8:28), that He claimed He had "[a]ll authority" after the resurrection (Matthew 28:18), He was not fully God when He could do nothing.

3. The Bible states that Jesus was tempted in all points as humans are (Hebrews 4:15) and that "God cannot be tempted by evil" (James 1:13). "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren" (Hebrews 2:17). Since "scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35) He could not have been fully God while in the flesh.

4. Jesus was not called God in the flesh until after His resurrection (John 20:28).

Thus while Jesus was what God would be like in the flesh, He simply was not fully God then. Also, the idea of being both FULLY human and FULLY God at the same time is contradiction that a logically is not possible.

By being empty of His divinity, Jesus simply did not have the direct powers (John 14:10), the inability to somehow die (and the Father raised him, He did not raise Himself--Acts 13:30-34; Romans 10:9; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12), the inability to be tempted (Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15), and the glory that He had prior to His human birth and after His resurrection--thus Jesus was not "fully God and fully human" while in the flesh as the trinitarians tend to believe. The fact that Jesus actually died, and that one who is fully God cannot, also shows that Jesus was not "fully God" while on Earth.

Also notice that Melito of Sardis confirmed that Jesus was man when He was buried, but then truly became God:

The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible, who was crushed as a lamb, but who was resurrected as God....For the one who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a lamb, and sacrificed as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose up from the dead as God, since he is by nature both God and man (Melito of Sardis. On the Passover, Verses 4 & 8. Translation from Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary, Vol.4,1;May 1989).

Jesus' nature is that He was fully God before being made fully man, and now He is fully God who had been man. But at no point was He both fully God and fully man--nor did Melito teach that. Melito, like us in the Church of God understood that while Jesus was "God with us" He was not fully God while on the earth, though He had the nature of God.

Even many Protestant scholars and translators admit that Jesus truly emptied Himself. The American Standard Version of the Bible is one of the few that has a correct rendering of the Greek term kenosis in this passage from Paul, which states:

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7, ASV).

Also, here is a quote from a Protestant theologian about that passage:

Kenosis: Literally means to empty. 

By being empty of His divinity, Jesus simply did not have all the prerogatives of divinity--such as the direct powers (John 14:10), the inability to somehow die (and the Father raised him, He did not raise Himself--Acts 13:30-34; Romans 10:9; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12), the inability to be tempted (Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15), and glory that He had prior to His human birth and after His resurrection--thus Jesus was not "fully God and fully human" while in the flesh as the trinitarians tend to believe.

Jesus made His lack of such direct powers on Earth clear in scriptures previously quoted in this article as well as various comments He made about angels. For example, while human He stated,

...do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53).

Yet in various prophecies He said that later He had charge over the angels (Matthew 13:41) and that He would have the Father's glory (Matthew 16:27;25:31).

Also, prior to His resurrection Jesus had limited authority on His own (John 5:27-30)--this differs from after the resurrection when He was given back all authority (Matthew 28:18).

It should be added that Jesus suggested that the miracles He performed while human had to do with faith, not His own power; see Mark 9:23;11:22-24. And more specifically,

"the Father who dwells in Me does the works" (John 14:10).

John recorded,

...every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world (I John 4:3).

The trinitarian teaching that Jesus was still fully God while on Earth suggests that Jesus did not actually empty Himself of His divinity and that He truly was not in all things made like His brethren (this is consistent with the trinitarian teaching that the same God exists simultaneously in three manifestations, always having the same power and will). The trinitarian teachings thus deny that Jesus truly came in the flesh. And sadly, as John points out, this heresy was around even in his time. The unitarian position that Jesus is not God would also seem to be condemned by the I John 4:3 statement.

But because both Roman Catholics and the Protestants teach that Jesus was 'fully human and fully God', they reject that He emptied Himself of His divinity, thus they deny that He has truly came in the flesh.

A passage cited to support the view that Jesus was fully God would be Colossians 2:9-10 which states,

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

While this is an excellent description of the risen Christ, who stated that He had all authority (Matthew 28:18), Jesus simply did not have all the powers of God on earth prior to His resurrection.

As someone else once put it, "During the time Jesus lived on earth, He was the same WHO (identity and history) He had always been, but he was not the same WHAT (immortal, invincible, all-knowing, etc.) that He had always been.  After living (and dying) as our example, the resurrection restored Him to what He had been."

Although I have heard some Protestant theologians improperly attempt to ignore what Paul taught in Philippians, perhaps the strangest one, was one who after admitting that kenosis (a word used in Philippians 2:7) means to empty, actually then stated that Jesus could not sin, and Jesus was God according to James 1:13. Let's look at that passage from James to see what it actually states:

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (James 1:13).

Notice that verse says that God cannot be tempted.  However, the Greek word for tempted (peirazo) is the same as the one used in Hebrews:

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Thus, there is a contradiction in the Protestant Calvinist theologian's logic here.

By comparing James 1:13 to Hebrews 4:15 it is clear that since the Bible shows Jesus was tempted on earth (and this is repeated in many places in the New Testament) and that God cannot be tempted, that while on earth, Jesus was not fully God (though God in the flesh). Jesus was not God with all the godly attributes - but God in the flesh. God in the flesh is limited to the flesh. God in the flesh is subject to temptation to sin. The Word, prior to emptying Himself, was God Unlimited. While on earth He was limited, yet still God - but God in the flesh.

The main difference between He and us is that He had the Holy Spirit without measure, from birth.

Since we humans can sin, either Jesus was capable of sinning (which He was) or He was not tempted as we are.  This also demonstrates that while on earth, Jesus was not fully God. However, as scripture shows, Jesus now is God--and was prior to His incarnation. It is a clear biblical truth that Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity to become a man prior to the resurrection.

Perhaps it should be noted that even what is believed to be the most ancient Christian complete sermon ever found, teaches that Jesus was Spirit and became flesh:

If Christ, the Lord who saved us, became flesh (even though he was originally spirit) and in that state called us...(Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed, 9:5. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 115).

This ancient sermon is saying that Jesus was originally spirit and became flesh like us! Thus, confirming the general binitarian position that Jesus, in fact, did fully empty Himself of His divinity while on Earth.

Don't Trinitarians Notice That the Bible Makes it Clear that Logically Speaking, Jesus Could Not Have Been Fully God?

By now, you may have asked yourself, if the Bible makes it clear that logically speaking, Jesus could not have been fully God, how do trinitarians justify this?

Well, they do it basically by claiming that the God the trinitarians worship is a mystery.

This section will include are some admissions from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant scholars.

Let's start with the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia:

IV. THE TRINITY AS A MYSTERY The Vatican Council has explained the meaning to be attributed to the term mystery in theology. It lays down that a mystery is a truth which we are not merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which, even when revealed, remains "hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak, by a kind of darkness" (Const., "De fide. cath.", iv). In other words, our understanding of it remains only partial, even after we have accepted it as part of the Divine messege {sic} (Joyce G. H. The Blessed Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Notice these admissions from the Eastern Orthodox:

Orthodoxy professes its faith in a simple trinity...If we speak of a simple Trinity, this self-contradictory expression means the distinctions...God is unknowable about what he is (Clendenin D.B. ed. Eastern Orthodox Theology, 2nd ed. Baker Academic, 2003, pp. 175,177).

Notice what one Protestant scholar (who is himself a trinitarian) wrote:

For Luther, as for the German mystics, God is Deus absconditus, the "hidden God," inaccessible to human reason...

By emphasizing the sole authority of Scripture and downgrading the work of the church fathers and the decisions of the ecumenical councils, Luther created a problem for his followers. One the one hand, Luther wanted to affirm traditional theology with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ, but on the other those doctrines are not explicit in Scripture. They are the product of church fathers and the councils (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 314).

Another trinitarian writer (S.C. Nair) goes so far as to list many reasons that are in conflict with the “Jesus was fully human and fully God” belief he has, and yet simply rationalizes them by referring to this situation as a "mystery”. Notice the following:

How can we understand this mystery? To put this in simple words, if at all this possible we could affirm the following:

1. God is the subject of the Incarnation. The word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn.1.14). But the humanity in Him had no existence apart from His deity. At the same time the humanity is elevated and glorified by its union with the deity in the person of the Son of God.

2. In Incarnation Jesus took upon him sinless, perfect humanity. The Holy One born was the Son of God (Lk.1.35).

3. The Divine and the human in Jesus Christ were never in conflict but acted as one. He always identified Himself as "I" and not as "we".

4. He was tired and asleep in the boat but he is the omnipotent God

5. He gives water of life freely, but he said "I thirst". It is God who gives life, but it is man who is thirsty.

6. He is the Light of the World, but He hung in darkness. It is God who is light, but the man who is in darkness

7. God cannot be tempted, but Jesus Christ was tempted of the devil

8. He is God who cannot die, but He died

9. He dwells in unapproachable light, but calls us to himself

10. He is God who is a consuming fire, but his touch heals

Yet in all these it is the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who is the subject (Nair, Silas C. Christology. Indus School of Apologetics and Theology Resource 108A1, 2006 available edition).

The truth is that several of the above statements are not mysteries, but are contradictions with the basic trinitarian contention that Jesus was fully God and fully human while on earth, prior to the resurrection. The ONLY way that most of those statements can be logically reconciled is not to accept contradictions (which is what seems to be advocated by S. Nair), but to realize that contrary to trinitarian assertions, Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity while on the earth prior to His resurrection like the Bible teaches.

Trinitarians understand that their God cannot be truly understood and that their position about Jesus being both fully human and fully God while on earth is in logical conflict. The real mystery is why people who claim to be logical accept that rules of logic do not apply in their concept of God.

Yet, they also generally teach that anyone that does not accept their trinity is either in a cult or is not a Christian (please see the article Binitarian View).

Concluding Comments

Both the Bible and early church writings confirm that Jesus is God, but that He emptied Himself of many of the prerogatives of His divinity while on the earth. Jesus became man. So, while on earth, Jesus (who was tempted as we are) was human and not fully divine.

However, before being on earth and after the resurrection, Jesus was God.

Jesus is now God and is once again with God.

More information on the nature of the Godhead can be found in the articles:

Is God's Existence Logical, Part I? Some say it is not logical to believe in God. Is that true?
Is Evolution Probable or Impossible or Is God's Existence Logical? Part II This short article clearly answers what 'pseudo-scientists' refuse to acknowledge.
Where Did God Come From? Any ideas? And how has God been able to exist?

Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning Is binitarianism the correct position? What about unitarianism or trinitarianism?
Is The Father God? What is the view of the Bible? What was the view of the early church?
How is God Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient? Here is a biblical article by Wallace Smith which answers what many really wonder about it.
Virgin Birth: Does the Bible Teach It? What does the Bible teach? What is claimed in The Da Vinci Code?
Did Early Christians Think the Holy Spirit Was A Separate Person in a Trinity? Or did they have a different view?
Did the True Church Ever Teach a Trinity? Most act like this is so, but is it?
Jesus: The Son of God and Saviour Who was Jesus? Why did He come to earth? What message did He bring? Is there evidence outside the Bible that He existed? Here is a YouTube sermon titled Jesus: Son of God and Saviour.
Was Unitarianism the Teaching of the Bible or Early Church? Many, including Jehovah's Witnesses, claim it was, but was it?
Binitarianism: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning This is a shorter article than the Binitarian View article, but has a little more information on binitarianism.

Thiel B. Jesus is God, But Was Made Man. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006 2007 2012 2013 2014 0413

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