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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

I.

(1) Timothy our brother.—Literally, Timothy the brother. The word is used obviously in its wider sense as meaning a fellow-Christian. The opening words of the Epistle are nearly identical with those of 1 Corinthians 1:1. Timotheus, however, takes the place of Sosthenes, having apparently left Corinth before the arrival of the First Epistle, or, possibly, not having reached it. (See Introduction.) It is natural to think of him as acting in this instance, as in others where the Apostle joins his name with his own (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as St. Paul’s amanuensis.

With all the saints.—On the term “saints,” see Note on Acts 9:13. The term Achaia, which does not occur in the opening of 1 Cor., includes the whole of the Roman province, and was probably used to take in the disciples of Cenchreæ (Romans 16:1) as well as those of Corinth, and possibly also those of Athens.

Verse 2

(2) Grace be to you.—See Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3.

Verse 3

(3) Blessed be God . . . the Father of mercies.—The opening words are spoken out of the fulness of the Apostle’s heart. He has had a comfort which he recognises as having come from God. The nature of that comfort, as of the previous sorrow, is hardly stated definitely till we come to 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7. At present the memory of it leads him to something like a doxology, as being the utterance of a more exulting joy than a simple thanksgiving, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3. The same formula meets us in Ephesians 1:3, where also it expresses a jubilant adoration. Two special names of God are added under the influence of the same feeling. He is “the Father of mercies,” the genitive being possibly a Hebraism, used in place of the cognate adjective; in which case it is identical with “God, the merciful Father,” in Jewish prayers, or with the ever-recurring formula of the Koran, “Allah, the compassionate, the merciful.” It seems better, however, to take the words more literally, as stating that God is the originator of all mercies, the source from which they flow. So we have the “Father of lights” in James 1:17. The precise phrase does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; but we have the same noun in “the mercies of God” in Romans 12:1.

The God of all comfort.—The latter word, of which, taking the books of the New Testament in their chronological order, this is the earliest occurrence, includes the idea of counsel as well as consolation. (See Note on Acts 4:36.) It is used only by St. Paul, St. Luke, and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and is pre-eminently characteristic of this Epistle, in which it occurs twelve, or, with the cognate verb, twenty-eight, times.

In the balanced structure of the sentence—the order of “God” and “Father” in the first clause being inverted in the second—we may trace something like an unconscious adoption of the familiar parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

Verse 4

(4) Who comforteth us.—For the writer, the name “God of all comfort” was the outcome of a living personal experience. He had felt that ever-continuing comfort flowing into his soul, and he knew that it had not been given to him for his own profit only, but that it might flow forth to others. Heathen poets had asserted one side of the truth. Sophocles had said—

“They comfort others who themselves have mourned;”

—Fragm.

and Virgil—

“Not ignorant of ill, I, too, have learnt
To succour those that suffer.”—Æn. i. 630.

There was a yet deeper truth in the thought that the power to comfort varies with the measure in which we have been comforted ourselves. Sorrow alone may lead to sympathy, but it falls short of that power to speak a word in season to them that are weary (Isaiah 1:4), which is of the very essence of the work of comforting. The words imply that he had passed through a time of tribulation himself. They imply also that he knew of their troubles. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 7:7-11.)

Verse 5

(5) Abound in us.—Better, overflow to us. The sufferings of Christ, as in 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1 (the Greek in 1 Peter 1:11 expresses a different thought), are those which He endured on earth; those which, in His mysterious union with His Church, are thought as passing from Him to every member of His body, that they too may drink of the cup that He drank of. For the thought that in our sufferings, of whatever nature, we share Christ’s sufferings, comp. 2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13. The use of the plural, “our tribulations,” “overflow to us,” is dependent partly on the fact that St. Paul has joined Timotheus with himself in his salutation, and partly on the fact that it is his usual way of speaking of himself unless he has distinctly to assert his own individuality.

So our consolation also aboundeth.—Better, as before, overflows. The consolation which has come to him through Christ, as the channel through whom it flows down from the Father, has, like the suffering, an expansive power, and pours itself out on others.

Verse 6

(6) And whether we be afflicted . . .—The better MSS. present some variations in the order of the clauses, some of them giving the words “and our hope of you is steadfast” after “which we also suffer” in this verse. The variation hardly affects the sense in any appreciable degree. That sense is that each stage of the Apostle’s experience, that of affliction no less than that of consolation, tended to make others sharers in the latter and not in the former.

For your consolation and salvation.—The latter word is added as presenting, in modern phrase, the objective side of the result of which St. Paul speaks, while the former gives prominence to the subjective. There was not only the sense of being comforted: there was also the actual deliverance from all real evil, expressed by the word “salvation.” But this deliverance is seen, not in a mere escape from, or avoidance of, sufferings, but in a patient, steadfast endurance of them.

Which is effectual.—Better, which worketh. The word is the same as in “faith working by love” in Galatians 5:6.

Which we also suffer.—What these are has not yet been specifically stated. It is assumed that the sufferings of all Christians have much in common. All have to suffer persecution from without (Acts 14:22). All have anxieties, sorrows, disappointments, which bring a keener pain than the ills that threaten the spoiling of goods or even life itself.

Verse 7

(7) And our hope of you is stedfast.—Better, our hope on behalf of you. The sentence is brought in as a kind of parenthesis connected with the word “enduring.” He had not used that word lightly, still less as a tacit reproach, as though they were wanting in endurance. His hope for them, for their salvation in the fullest sense of the word, had never been stronger than it was at that moment.

So shall ye be also of the consolation.—Better, so are ye also. The verb is not expressed in the Greek, but it is more natural to supply it in the tense which had been used before. The English version practically dilutes the hope by throwing it into a future, which may be near or distant, instead of connecting it with the actual present. The Apostle could not doubt for a moment that they were at that very time sharers in the comfort as well as in the sufferings.

Verse 8

(8) We would not, brethren, have you ignorant.—From the generalised language of the previous verses he passes to something more specific. The phrase by which he calls attention to the importance of what he is about to write is characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 1:13; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Our trouble which came to us in Asia.—The allusion may possibly be to the Demetrius tumult of Acts 19:24-41, or to some like time of danger, such as that referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:32. On the other hand, however, he would probably, in that case, have spoken of a definitely localised danger, as he does in the last reference as being “in Ephesus.” The words “in Asia” suggest a wider range of suffering, such as we find referred to in the speech to the elders at Miletus (Acts 20:19), and the context leads us to think of bodily illness as well as of perils and anxieties.

We were pressed out of measure.—The adverbial phrase is specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period. We find it in the “exceedingly sinful” of Romans 7:13; the “more excellent (or, transcending) way” of 1 Corinthians 12:31; and again in 2 Corinthians 4:17; Galatians 1:13.

Insomuch that we despaired even of life.—The language is obviously more vividly descriptive of the collapse of illness than of any peril such as those referred to in the previous Note. St. Paul could hardly have despaired of life during the tumult of Acts 19:0.

Verse 9

(9) We had the sentence of death in ourselves.—The word translated “sentence” (apokrima) does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor indeed in the LXX. Literally, it means answer, and was probably a half-technical term, used in medical practice, which St. Paul may have adopted from St. Luke, expressing the “opinion” which a physician formed on his diagnosis of a case submitted to him. The Apostle had found himself in a state in which, so far as he could judge for himself, that opinion would have been against the prospect of recovery. He ceased to trust in himself, i.e., in any remedial measures that he could take for himself. He could only fold his hands and trust in God. Recovery in such a case was a veritable resurrection. It may be noted, however, that a cognate word (apokrisis) is frequently used by Hippocrates in the sense of a morbid or virulent secretion, and possibly the word here used may also have had that meaning. In this case, what he says would be equivalent to “We had the symptoms of a fatal disease in us.”

Verse 10

(10) Who delivered us from so great a death.—Death in itself seems hardly to admit of such a qualifying adjective, but the words appear to have been used to represent the incidents of the death which seemed so near, the bodily anguish, the sense of prostration, almost, one might venture to say, the very presence of the king of terrors. As the word translated “so great” is strictly speaking, used of quality rather than quantity, we might almost translate it, so terrible a death.

And doth deliver.—The words are wanting in some of the better MSS., and others give them in the future. They may possibly have been inserted to carry the thought of the deliverance into the present as well as through the past and the future.

In whom we trust.—Better, in whom we have hoped. The verb is not the same as the “trust” of the preceding verse. The words imply that he was not yet altogether free, as man would judge, from the danger of a relapse. Life was for him, in relation both to bodily infirmities and perils of other kinds, a perpetual series of deliverances.

Verse 11

(11) Ye also helping together by prayer . . .—They too to whom he writes can help him as he helps them. Indirectly he asks their prayers for him, but he does so with a refined delicacy of feeling, by assuming that they are already praying, and that their prayers are helpful.

That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons.—The Greek word for “person” (prosôpon) is elsewhere throughout the New Testament translated “face” or “countenance,” or “person” in the sense of “outward appearance.” It has been suggested that that may be its meaning even here: that thanksgiving may be offered from many upturned faces. The use of the word prosopopœia, however, for “personifying,” and of prosôpon for the characters in a drama, indicates that the noun was beginning to be used in a different sense, and this must clearly have been well established when it came to be used in theological language for the three “persons” of the Godhead. It is interesting to note, however, as a fact in the history of language, that, if this be its meaning here, it is probably one of the earliest extant instances of its being so used.

The “gift,” in this instance, is the deliverance from danger and suffering spoken of in the previous verse. Safety and health deserved the name not less truly than prophecy and the gift of tongues. He assumes, with the same subtle refinement as before, that they will be as ready to give thanks for his recovery or deliverance as they were to pray for it.

Verse 12

(12) For our rejoicing is this. . . .—Better, our boast, as in Romans 3:17; Romans 15:17; 1 Corinthians 15:31. With the feeling of jubilant thankfulness which has hitherto characterised his language there mingles another of a different character. It had, perhaps, been in the background of his thoughts all along. He had seemed, in 1 Corinthians 4:21, to imply that he was coming to take strong measures against evil-doers (“Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love?”). In 1 Corinthians 16:2-8 he had spoken yet more definitely, “I will come unto you, when I shall have passed through Macedonia.” And yet he had not come. Titus would seem to have told him what was said of this: “He was fickle, and changeable; said Yes one day, and No another. Perhaps he was afraid to come.” He is eager to refute the charge without a formal pleading as in answer to it, and seems to cast about for an opening. He finds it in the words which he had just dictated. He has a right to assume that the Corinthians will pray and give thanks for him, for he can boast that he has never failed, conscience bearing him witness, in transparent sincerity to them.

The testimony of our conscience.—The words present an obviously undesigned coincidence with St. Paul’s language in Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, and again with that of Romans 9:1. To have nothing on his conscience, to “know nothing by (i.e., against) himself” (1 Corinthians 4:4), was the great law of his life. And this was true, as of his whole life in relation to the Corinthians, so especially of the supposed change of purpose with which he had been taunted.

In simplicity.—The better MSS. give “holiness” instead of “simplicity.” The Greek word for the latter is very characteristic of this Epistle (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3), but then it is used in these passages in quite another sense, as of a single-minded generosity. The word for “holiness” is not a common one, but it appears in Hebrews 12:10. It was, however, the natural correlative of the term “saints” applied to all believers. St. Paul’s conscience told him that he had not been false to the consecrated character which that term involved.

Godly sincerity.—Better, sincerity which is of God. It is seldom satisfactory to tone down the bold vigour of the Greek, or perhaps Hebrew, idiom into the tameness of an English adjective. The sincerity which St. Paul claims had come to him as God’s gift: he could submit it to God’s judgment. The word for “sincerity” (literally, transparency of character, or, perhaps, that which bore the test of the strongest light) had been used in 1 Corinthians 5:8.

Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.—Better, in or with in both clauses. The words indicate the same line of thought as those of 1 Corinthians 2:1-6. Men made invidious comparisons between his plainness of speech and the eloquent wisdom of some other teachers. That kind of “fleshly,” i.e., worldly, wisdom he disclaims. It was not that, but the favour or the “grace” of God which was the motive-force of his action, the sphere in which he lived and moved.

We have had our conversation.—Better, we conducted ourselves. The tense of the Greek verb implies a special reference in thought to the time when he had been at Corinth. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to note that “conversation” means “conduct,” but as the first occurrence of the word in the New Testament, it may be well to trace the several stages through which it has passed. On its appearance in English, as in Chaucer, it has its full etymological force as indicating, as it does here, habitual conduct. “Enquire of his conversation and of his life before” (Tale of Melibœus). So in Wiclif’s version of the Bible it is used, as in that of 1611, in Galatians 1:13. In somewhat later writers, e.g., in Sidney and Strype, the sense becomes that of “conduct with others,” “converse, intercourse,” a sense still prominent in the familiar legal term for adultery. In Swift and Cowper it has come to be all but absolutely identified with the intercourse which is carried on by talking. In its fullest sense, the Apostle can say that he had striven to live everywhere so as to avoid giving grounds for suspicion. Nowhere had he been more careful so to live than at Corinth, where men were suspicious in proportion to their own viciousness. (Comp. Notes on 2 Corinthians 7:1-2.)

Verse 13

(13) For we write none other things . . .—The Greek presents a play on the two words “read” (ana-ginoskein) and “acknowledge,” or “know fully” (epiginoskein), which it is impossible to reproduce in English. It is as though he said: “I have no hidden meaning in what I write and you read. What you read you read aright in its plain and simple sense. I hope” (the very hope implies that it had been otherwise) “that the more you know me the more will you so read me and judge me even to the end, the great day when the Lord shall come and all things shall be made plain.” (Comp. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.) Possibly, however, the words “even to the end” may be merely equivalent to “completely.” (See Note on John 13:1.)

Verse 14

(14) As also ye have acknowledged.—The parenthetical clause (better, ye did acknowledge) comes in to qualify the fear which had been partly veiled by the hope. They had done him some, though not adequate, justice. The phrase “in part” may be noted as specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 11:25; Romans 15:15; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 12:27; 1 Corinthians 13:9).

That we are your rejoicing . . .—Better, a ground of exultation to you, as you are to us. The words must be connected with the future rather than the past. “I trust that you will one day recognise that you have as much reason to be proud of me as I have to be proud of you.” The word for “rejoicing,” “boasting,” “glorying,” &c., is specially characteristic of this period of St. Paul’s life, occurring forty-six times in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, and only six times in his other Epistles. The “day of the Lord Jesus,” of His great advent to judge the world (comp. Romans 2:16), defines the “end” to which the previous verse had pointed.

Verse 15

(15) And in this confidence.—What has been said hitherto paves the way for the explanation of his apparent change of purpose which he is anxious to give, though he will not formally plead at the bar of the tribunal of those who accused or suspected him. It was because he trusted that they would judge him rightly that he had done that which had led some to judge him wrongly. His plan had been at first to go straight by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, then to pass on to Macedonia, thence to return to Corinth, and thence set sail for Jerusalem. When he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:5-6, he had already modified his plan by deciding to go to Macedonia first. His original scheme had shown his wish to see as much of the Corinthians as possible. They were to have two visits (“a second favour”), and not one only. Had he shown less regard, he asks, in the change with which he had been taunted?

Verse 16

(16) To be brought on my way.—The change of word is significant. He did not intend merely to go from Corinth to Judaea. He expected the Corinthians to further his intentions, to help him on, to escort him solemnly to the ship in which he was to sail, perhaps to accompany him to Asia. (Comp. the use of the word in Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38, “accompanied”; 21:5; Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:6-11.) The wish had been stated in 1 Corinthians 16:6, but without more than a hint (1 Corinthians 16:4), that his destination might be Jerusalem,

Verse 17

(17) Did I use lightness?—This, then, was the charge which he is anxious to refute. The question meets us, however, When had the Corinthians heard of the plan thus detailed? It had been already abandoned, as we have seen, before the first Epistle was despatched. Had it been communicated in a lost letter (see Note on 1 Corinthians 5:9)? or was this what Timotheus, who started before the first letter was written (1 Corinthians 4:17), had been authorised to announce? Either alternative is possible, and there is no evidence to enable us to decide which is most probable.

Do I purpose according to the flesh . . .?—The construction is somewhat involved. He may mean: (1) “Do I form my purposes after the flesh” (i.e., from worldly motives), “so as to catch the praise of consistency from those who harp on the rule that ‘Yes should be yes, and No, no’?” or (2) “Am I weak and worldly in my purpose, changing my plans, and saying Yes’ and ‘No’ in almost the same breath?” On the whole, (2) seems to give the better sense. It is obvious that the words on which he dwells had been used of him by others. Some teacher of the party of the circumcision had, apparently, quoted the rule of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37) and of St. James (James 5:12), and had asked, with a sneer, when the First Epistle came and showed that the original plan had been abandoned, whether this was the way in which St. Paul acted on it? The passage has accordingly the interest of being indirectly a reference to our Lord’s teaching, showing, like Acts 20:35, that “the words of the Lord Jesus” were habitually cited as rules of life.

Verse 18

(18) As God is true.—Literally, as God is faithful. The words were one of St. Paul’s usual formulæ of assertion. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3.) In other instances it is followed commonly by a statement as to some act or attribute of God. Here it is more of the nature of an oath: “As God is faithful in all His words, so my speech” (the vague term is used to include preaching, writing, personal intercourse) “is true and faithful also.” There had been no “Yes” and “No” in the same breath; no saying one thing when he meant another.

Verse 19

(19) By me and Silvanus and Timotheus.—We note an undesigned coincidence with Acts 18:5, where Silas (whose identity with Silvanus is thus proved) is related to have come with Timotheus to join St. Paul at Corinth. The three names are joined together in the same order in 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.—From the forensic point of view, this was, of course, hardly an adequate defence against the charge of inconsistency. The argument was, so to speak, one of ethical congruity. It was infinitely unlikely that one who preached Christ, the absolutely True Christ, who enforced every precept with the emphatic “Amen, Amen” (the word occurs thirty-one times in St. Matthew, fourteen times in St. Mark, seven times in St. Luke, and in its reduplicated form twenty-five times in St. John), “Verily, verily,” should afterwards be shamelessly untruthful, and use words that paltered with a double sense.

But in him was yea.—Better, but in him Yea has been and still is so, as His great characterising word.

Verse 20

(20) All the promises of God . . .—Literally, as many as are the promises of God. Many of the better MSS. give a different reading: “In him is the Yea, wherefore also by him is the Amen to God for glory by our means.” The thought in either case is the same. The promises of God have been fulfilled and ratified in Christ. He was, as it were, a living incarnate “Amen” to those promises. Comp. St. John’s use of the word Amen as a name of Christ, the “faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14). The words “by us” are determined by the context as referring to the preacher rather than to the hearers of the Word.

Verse 21

(21) He which stablisheth us with you . . .—For a moment the thought of an apology for his own conduct is merged in the higher thought of the greatness of his mission. The word “stablisheth,” or “confirmed,” as in 1 Corinthians 1:8, is connected with the previous “Amen” as the emphatic formula of ratification. In the insertion of “with you” we note St. Paul’s characteristic anxiety to avoid the appearance of claiming for himself what others might not claim with equal right. He repeats the confident hope which he had expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:8.

In Christ.—Literally, into Christ, as though the result of the “establishing” was an actual incorporation with Him. This seems a truer interpretation than that which paraphrases, “confirms us in believing on Christ.”

And hath anointed us.—Literally, and anointed, as referring to a definite moment in the life of the disciples. The verb follows naturally on the mention of Christ the Anointed One. The time referred to is that when, on baptism or the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17), they had received the first-fruits of the gift of the Spirit, as in Acts 2:38; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44; Acts 19:6; the “unction from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27).

Verse 22

(22) Who hath also sealed us.—Better, who also sealed us. The thought thus expressed is that the gift of the Spirit, following on baptism or the laying on of hands, is as the seal of the covenant which God makes with His people, attesting its validity. (Comp. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; and, for the Jewish use of seals, Jeremiah 32:10.)

And given the earnest of the Spirit.—Better, for the same reason as before, gave. The Greek word for “earnest” (arrhabôn), which occurs here for the first time, and is used only by St. Paul in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14), has a somewhat interesting history. Originally a Hebrew word, from a verb meaning “to mix,” “to change,” “to pledge,” and so used, as a cognate noun, with the last of the three senses, it appears simply transliterated in the LXX. of Genesis 38:17-18. It would seem to have been in common use among the Canaanite or Phoenician traders, and was carried by them to Greece, to Carthage, to Alexandria, and to Rome. It was used by the Greek orator Isæus, and by Plautus and Terence among the earlier Latin writers. The full form came to be considered somehow as pedantic or vulgar, and was superseded in Roman law by the shortened “arrha,” the payment of a small sum given on the completion of a bargain as a pledge that the payer would fulfil the contract; and it has passed into Italian as “arra;” into modern French, as “les arrhes;” into popular Scotch even, as “arles.” As applied by St. Paul, it had the force of a condensed parable, such as the people of commercial cities like Corinth and Ephesus would readily understand. They were not to think that their past spiritual experience had any character of finality. It was rather but the pledge of yet greater gifts to come: even of that knowledge of God which is eternal life (John 17:3). The same thought is expressed, under a more Hebrew image, in the “firstfruits of the Spirit” in Romans 8:23. Grammatically, the “earnest of the Spirit” may be taken as an example of the genitive of apposition, “the earnest which is the Spirit.”

Verse 23

(23) I call God for a record.—Better, I call upon God as a witness against my soul. The thought seems to come across St. Paul’s mind that the Corinthians will require a more specific explanation of his change of plan, and he finds this in what had been in part suggested in 1 Corinthians 4:21. Had he carried out his first purpose, he would have come to punish or chastise. He had been, on this account, reluctant to come. His not coming was an act of leniency.

I came not as yet.—Better, I came no morei.e., not a second time after his first visit. The Greek adverb cannot possibly mean “not yet.”

Verse 24

(24) Not for that we have dominion over your faith.—Better, are lording it over. He has scarcely written, or uttered, the words which imply authority, when the thought comes to him that he may seem to claim too much. He shrinks from “lording it over God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3), and half apologises for so strong a word as “sparing.” He puts forward, therefore, the other side of his work. He was really seeking, not to domineer, or cause pain, but to be a fellow-worker with their “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). He knows that they have a standing-ground, independently of him, in their faith in Christ, and he seeks to confirm that faith.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-corinthians-1.html. 1905.
 
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