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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

1 Corinthians 14:1-4. Follow after love — Namely, that love, the nature, necessity, and excellence of which are shown at large in the preceding chapter; pursue this, which far exceeds all extraordinary gifts, with zeal, vigour, courage, patience, otherwise you will neither attain nor keep it. And — In their place, as subservient to this; desire spiritual gifts — With moderation, and in submission to the divine will; but rather, or especially, that ye may prophecy — The word here does not appear to mean foretelling things to come, but rather opening and applying the Scriptures, and discoursing on divine things in an edifying manner. For he that speaketh in a tongue — Unknown to the auditory, to which he addresses himself; speaketh — In effect; not unto men, but unto God — Who alone understands him. Howbeit, or although, in or by the inspiration of the Spirit, he speaketh mysteries — Such things as are full of divine and hidden wisdom. But he that prophesieth — That is, who discourses of divine things, in a language understood by the hearers; speaketh to edification — To the building up of believers in faith and holiness; and exhortation — To excite them to zeal and diligence; and comfort — Support and consolation under their trials and troubles. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself only — On the most favourable supposition. The apostle speaks thus, because a person who spoke in an unknown tongue might possibly, while he spoke, find his own good affections awakened by the truths he delivered with fervency, and he might find his faith in Christianity established by the consciousness he had of a miraculous power working in him. From this it is plain that the inspired person, who uttered, in an unknown language, a revelation made to himself, must have understood it, otherwise he could not increase his own knowledge and faith by speaking it. But he that prophesieth — While he edifies himself, edifieth the church also, the whole congregation.


Verse 5

1 Corinthians 14:5. I would that ye all spake with tongues — In as great a variety as God hath imparted that gift to any man living; but rather that ye prophesied — For when we consider the different effects and tendencies of these different gifts, we must acknowledge that, with respect to the prospects of usefulness by which these things are to be estimated, greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues — Which those who hear him cannot understand; except he interpret — Or rather, except some one interpret; for it appears from 1 Corinthians 14:28, that what was spoken in an unknown tongue was usually interpreted by another person, and not by the person who spoke it, the interpretation of tongues being, in the first church, a distinct gift. See on 1 Corinthians 12:10. That the church may receive edifying — Which it might, it seems, equally receive if the things spoken had been delivered only in a language understood by the auditory, and not first in an unknown tongue. “How happily does the apostle here teach us to estimate the value of gifts and talents, not by their brilliancy, but usefulness. Speaking with tongues was indeed very serviceable for spreading the gospel abroad; but for those who remained at home, it was much more desirable to be able to discourse well on useful subjects in their own language, which might serve more for the improvement of the society they belonged to, and the conviction of such of their unbelieving neighbours as might, out of curiosity, happen to step into the assemblies.” — Doddridge.


Verse 6

1 Corinthians 14:6. Now, brethren — As if he had said, I wonder whether that which you so much admire in others would please you in me: if I come unto you speaking with tongues — Supposing the next time I make you a visit at Corinth, I should address you in a variety of languages which you do not understand; what shall I profit you — Who are supposed not to understand me; except I speak to you — In a language with which you are acquainted; either by revelation — Of some gospel mystery; or by knowledge — Explaining the ancient types and prophecies; or by prophesying — Foretelling some future event; or by doctrine — For the regulation of your tempers and lives. Perhaps this may be the sense of these obscure expressions.


Verses 7-9

1 Corinthians 14:7-9. And even — Greek, ομως, in like manner, (the word, it seems, being here used for ομοιως, as it sometimes is by the poets, see Beza and Macknight,) things without life — Inanimate things; whether pipe or harp — Or any other instrument of music; except they give a distinction — Greek, διαστολην φθογγοις, a difference to the notes. “Among musicians, the former word signifies the measured distance between sounds, according to certain proportions, from which the melody of a tune results.” And Raphelius has shown that the latter word, as distinguished from φωνη, voice, signifies a musical sound, a note in music. How shall it be known what is piped or harped — What music can be made, or what end answered? For — Or, moreover; in war, if — Instead of sounding those notes whose meaning is understood by the soldiers, the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle — How could soldiers know when to advance or when to retreat, unless the trumpet sounds were adjusted, and constantly adhered to? So likewise — In your religious assemblies; except ye utter words easy to be understood — Significant words, to which the ears of your auditory are accustomed; how shall it be known what is spoken — What is intended to be signified by your expressions? For ye shall speak into the air — (A proverbial expression,) you will utterly lose your labour.


Verses 10-12

1 Corinthians 14:10-12. There are — No doubt; so many kinds of voices — Or languages; in the world — As ye speak; and none of them is without signification — To those that are acquainted with them. Therefore — Nevertheless; if I know not the meaning of the voice — The import of the particular language which is used in my hearing; I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian — What I say will appear unintelligible jargon; and he a barbarian unto me — We shall be incapable of holding any conversation with each other. “The Greeks, after the custom of the Egyptians, mentioned by Herodotus, lib. 2., called all those barbarians who did not speak their language. In process of time, however, the Romans, having subdued the Greeks, delivered themselves by force of arms from that opprobrious appellation, and joined the Greeks in calling all barbarians who did not speak either the Greek or the Latin language. Afterward, the word barbarian signified any one who spake a language which another did not understand. Thus the Scythian philosopher, Anacharsis, said, that among the Athenians, the Scythians were barbarians; and among the Scythians, the Athenians were barbarians. This is the sense of the word barbarian in this passage.” Even so, &c. —

Wherefore ye also, that ye may not be barbarians to each other; forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts — And are ready to vie with each other in the exercise of them, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church — And not merely for your own honour. Strive for the greatest share of those gifts whereby you may be useful to your fellow-Christians.


Verse 13-14

1 Corinthians 14:13-14. Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue — Unknown to the congregation to which he would address himself; pray that he may interpret — That God would give him the gift also of expounding his discourse, in the common language of the place, a gift this distinct from the other. For if I pray, &c. — The apostle, as he did at 1 Corinthians 14:6, transfers it to himself; in an unknown tongue; without making use of any explication; my spirit indeed prayeth — By the influence of the Spirit of God, I understand the words myself; but my understanding is unfruitful — Namely, to others; the knowledge I have is of no benefit to them; and I perform an action void of that prudence and good sense which ought always to govern persons in their addresses to God, and act so childish and foolish a part that the reason of a man may seem at that time to have deserted me. “This,” says Dr. Doddridge, “I think a more natural interpretation than that which supposes the apostle to suggest a thought which the Papists urge to palliate the absurdity of offering prayers in an unknown tongue, namely, ‘there may be some general good affections working where the person praying does not particularly understand what he says.’ But this would make it almost impossible to conceive how the gift of tongues could be abused, if the person exercising it was under such an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit, as to utter sensible words which he did not himself understand; in which case a man must be, in the most extraordinary sense that can be conceived, the mere organ of the Holy Ghost himself.”


Verses 15-17

1 Corinthians 14:15-17. What is it then? — What is my duty in these circumstances? What must I do when the Spirit moves me to pray in the church in an unknown tongue? Why this: I will pray with the Spirit — Under his influence, uttering the words which he suggests; and I will pray with the understanding also — So that my meaning, being interpreted into the common language, may be understood by others, 1 Corinthians 14:19. I will sing with the inspiration of the Spirit — And with my meaning interpreted also. I will use my understanding as well as the power of the Spirit. I will not act so foolishly as to utter in a congregation what can edify none but myself, and leave it uninterpreted. Else, when thou shalt bless God with the inspiration of the Spirit in an unknown language, how shall he that occupieth the room — That filleth the place; of the unlearned — That is, any private hearer; say amen at thy giving of thanks — Assent to and confirm thy words, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest — Can form no idea of thy meaning. The word ιδιωτης, here rendered unlearned, is used by Josephus, (Antiq., 3. c. 9,) to denote a private person, as distinguished from the priests. In like manner it here denotes those of the assembly who had not the gift of languages, and who were not teachers, but hearers only. The apostle’s question, How shall he say Amen? implies that it was the custom in the Christian church from the beginning, for all the people, in imitation of the ancient worship, to signify their assent to the public prayers by saying amen, at the conclusion of them. Of this custom in the Jewish Church we have many examples. See Deuteronomy 27:15, &c.; Nehemiah 8:6; Esd. 9:47. For thou verily givest thanks well — We will grant that there is nothing improper either in thy sentiments or expressions, if they were understood. But the other is not edified — In order to which it is absolutely necessary that he should understand what is spoken.


Verse 18-19

1 Corinthians 14:18-19. I thank my God, &c. — As if he had said, I do not speak thus of foreign languages because I myself am deficient in them, for I must say, to the glory of that Being from whom all my gifts and talents are derived, I speak with tongues more than you all — More than the whole society taken together. “The apostle had this great variety of languages given him by inspiration, that he might be able immediately to preach the gospel to all nations, without spending time in learning their languages. But it must be remembered that the knowledge of so many languages miraculously communicated, was a knowledge for common use, such as enabled the apostle to deliver the doctrines of the gospel clearly and properly; and not such a knowledge of these languages as prevented him in speaking and writing from mixing foreign idioms with them, especially the idioms of his mother tongue. An attention to such trifles was below the grandeur and importance of the work in which the apostle was engaged, and tended to no solid use; these foreign idioms being often more expressive and emphatical than the correspondent classical phrases.” — Macknight. Yet in the church, &c. — Yet so far am I from being vain of this gift, that in the church I had rather speak were it only five plain words with my understanding — In a rational manner, so as not only to understand myself, but to be understood by others; than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue — However sublime and elegant that discourse might be: yea, I had rather be entirely silent in an assembly, than take up their time, and prostitute the extraordinary gifts of God to such a vain and foolish purpose.


Verse 20

1 Corinthians 14:20. Brethren, be not children in understanding — By exercising the gift of tongues in the manner you do, preferring the things which make a fine show and gain applause, above things more useful and solid. This is an admirable stroke of true oratory, and was a severe reproof to the Corinthians, who piqued themselves on their wisdom, to represent their speaking unknown languages, and contending about precedency, as a childishness which men of sense would be ashamed of. Howbeit in malice — Or wickedness rather, as κακια here signifies; be ye children — As much as possible like infants; have all the gentleness, sweetness, and innocency of their tender age; but in understanding be men τελειοι, full-grown men. Conduct yourselves with the good sense and prudence of such, knowing religion was not designed to destroy any of our natural faculties, but to exalt and improve them, our reason in particular. Doddridge makes the following remark on this part of the apostle’s epistle to the Corinthians: “Had the most zealous Protestant divine endeavoured to expose the absurdity of praying and praising in an unknown tongue, as practised in the Church of Rome, it is difficult to imagine what he could have written more full to the purpose than the apostle hath done here.” He adds, for the instruction of those who preach the gospel, “that a height of composition, an abstruseness of thought, and an obscurity of phrase, which common Christians cannot understand, is really a speaking in an unknown tongue, though the language used be the language of the country.”


Verse 21

1 Corinthians 14:21. In the law it is written — The law here signifies the whole Jewish Scriptures. The passage quoted is taken from Isaiah 28:11, (where see the note.) With stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. And so he did: he spake terribly to them by the Babylonians, (whose language, strange and unintelligible to the Jews, is here referred to,) when they had set at naught what he had spoken by the prophets, who used their own language. Some critics have observed, that the Hebrew words in this passage of Isaiah, ought to be translated, in labiis irrisionis, with mocking lips; in which sense the LXX. understood the phrase, rendering it, δια φαυλισμον χειλεων. But that translation makes no alteration in the meaning; for they who speak to others in an unknown language, seem to the persons to whom they speak, to stammer and to mock them. The same thing is predicted, Deuteronomy 28:49, and Jeremiah 5:15; where see the notes. According to Diodati the meaning is, “Because they would not attend to plain messages, God would speak to them by such as they could not understand;” and which they would hate to hear: and then the apostle’s argument will be, “Since God threatens this as a curse, do not voluntarily bring it upon the church, merely to make ostentation of your own gifts.” Isaiah’s words, however, may be considered as an intimation of the purpose God had of sending one last message to them by his servants, endued with the gift of tongues. This, according to Macknight, is the primary meaning of the prophet’s words. “Isaiah evidently foretels,” says he, “the methods which God, in future times, would use for converting the unbelieving Jews; and among others, that he would speak to them in foreign languages, that is, in the languages of the nations among whom they were dispersed. The passage, therefore, is a prediction of the gift of speaking foreign languages, to be bestowed on the first preachers of the gospel.” The prophecy thus understood had its accomplishment at the day of pentecost. Yet for all that — Though I shall do this extraordinary thing to awaken, convince, and alarm them; they will not hear me — They will not hearken and obey me. This the Lord foresaw, and foretold repeatedly by Moses and the prophets.


Verse 22

1 Corinthians 14:22. Wherefore — Since this was formerly threatened by God as a punishment, you should not so admire or magnify it, especially since tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe — Not to convince, edify, or comfort the faithful; but to them that believe not — To unbelievers, to whom ye speak in their own language, Acts 2:8; namely, to engage their attention to the gospel, and to convince them that what is delivered is the truth of God. But prophesying — Preaching the word, discoursing on divine things; serveth not so much for them that believe not — Who cannot know that you are inspired in prophesying, and have no proof that your doctrine is true; but for them which believe — For their confirmation in the faith, and their edification in holiness and righteousness.


Verses 23-25

1 Corinthians 14:23-25. Yet sometimes prophecy is of more use even to unbelievers than speaking with tongues. For instance: if the whole church be come together — On some extraordinary occasion; (it is probable in so large a city they ordinarily met in several places;) and all — That are endowed with such a gift; speak with tongues — One in one language, and another in another; and there come in those that are unlearned — Persons ignorant of those languages; men of learning might possibly have understood the tongues in which they spake; or unbelievers — Heathen, who are strangers to these dealings of God with his church; will they not say ye are mad — When they see the confusion you make by speaking languages which no one present understands? “This is not contrary to what is said 1 Corinthians 14:22, that the speaking in foreign languages was a sign to convince unbelievers. For the unbelievers to be convinced by that sign, were such strangers as understood the language in which they were addressed; whereas the unbelievers and unlearned persons, who considered the speaking of foreign languages as an effect of madness, were those strangers who did not understand them.” — Macknight. But if all prophesy — Expound the word of God, or discourse by turns on divine things; and there come in one that believeth not — One who did not before believe; or one unlearned — Acquainted with no language but that in which the discourses are delivered; he is convinced — Rather, convicted, by all who thus speak in succession, and speak to the hearts of the hearers; he is judged of all — Every one says something to which his conscience bears witness. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest — Laid open, clearly described in a manner which to him is most astonishing and utterly unaccountable; insomuch, that although he perhaps came into your assembly out of mere curiosity, or with some ill design, he is not able to command himself under the impression which the word of God thus spoken makes upon him; and so falling down — Under the power of it; on his face — To the ground; he will worship — That one living and true God — Whose people you are, and to whose truth you thus bear witness; and report — Declare to others; that God is among you of a truth — How many instances of this kind are seen at this day, in places where the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is faithfully preached! So does God still give point and efficacy to the word of his grace!


Verse 26

1 Corinthians 14:26. How is it then, (rather, what a thing is it,) brethren? — This was another disorder among them. When ye come together — For the purposes of social worship, in which all hearts should unite, each of you is desirous himself to officiate publicly in such a manner as best suits his present inclination, without any regard to decency and order: Every one of you hath a psalm, &c. — That is, at the same time, one begins to read or sing a psalm, another to inculcate a doctrine, another to speak in an unknown tongue, another to declare what had been revealed to him in explanation of some mystery, another to interpret what tie former had but just begun to speak: every one, probably, gathering a little company about him, just as they did in the schools of the philosophers. Dr. Macknight understands the passage in a somewhat different sense, paraphrasing it thus: “What is to be done, brethren, When ye are assembled, one of you, by inspiration, hath a psalm; another hath a discourse; another hath something made known to him in a foreign language; another, a revelation of some future event; another hath an interpretation of what was uttered in a foreign language. In such cases, let all these gifts be exercised to edification.” Grotius thinks the several clauses of this verse should be read interrogatively: Hath each of you a psalm? hath he a discourse? The inspired psalms of which the apostle speaks, were not metrical compositions, but compositions which were distinguished from prose by the sublimity of the sentiments, and the strength, beauty, and aptness of the expressions. Such was the inspired psalm which Mary, our Lord’s mother, uttered, Luke 1:46, and the inspired thanksgiving and prayer in which the disciples joined upon the deliverance of Peter and John from the council, recorded Acts 4:24-30. The word διδαχη, rendered doctrine in our text, signifies not only the thing taught, but the discourse in which it is taught; and here, probably, a discourse for edification, exhortation, and consolation.


Verse 27-28

1 Corinthians 14:27-28. If any man speak — That is, be moved to speak; in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or, at the most, three — Let not above two or three speak at one meeting; and that by course — That is, one after another; and let one interpret — What is said, into the vulgar tongue. It seems, the gift of tongues was an instantaneous knowledge of a tongue, till then unknown, which he that received it could afterward speak when he thought fit, without any new miracle. But if there be no interpreter present, let him — The person speaking in a foreign language; be silent in the church — Where he can do no manner of service by uttering what none but himself can understand; and let him speak in that tongue to himself and to God — Make use of his gift in his own private devotions, if he find it profitable so to do. From its being here ordered that, if no interpreter were present, the person who spoke in a foreign language must be silent, Macknight infers that, even if the inspired person were able to interpret the foreign language in which a revelation was given to him, he was not permitted to do it; “because, to have delivered the revelation first in the foreign language, and then in a known tongue, would have been an ostentation of inspiration, of which the church would not approve; not to mention that it would have wasted much time to no purpose. Whereas, when one spake a revelation in a foreign language, and another interpreted what he spake, the church was edified, not only by the things spoken, thus made known to them, but also by having an undoubted proof of the inspiration of the person who spake, given them in the inspired interpretation of what he spake.’


Verses 29-33

1 Corinthians 14:29-33. Let the prophets speak — In succession; two or three — And not more, at one meeting; and let the others judge — And compare one doctrine with another for the further improvement of all. Or, the sense may be, Let the others, who have the gift of discerning spirits, διακρινετωσαν, discern whether they have spoken by inspiration or by private suggestion. If any thing be revealed to another — If to another, who sitteth by, hearing a prophet speak, any thing be revealed, let the first finish his discourse and be silent, before the other attempts to speak. For in this way ye may all prophesy — Who have that gift; one by one — That is, one after another; that all may learn — Both by speaking and by hearing; which you could not do if many were speaking at once. The apostle supposes here, that when a spiritual man was speaking in the church by inspiration, something relating to the same, or to a different subject, might be revealed to another prophet who was sitting by, hearing him. In such a case, the rule to be observed was, the first was to be silent, that is, was to finish what he had to say before the other began to speak, as is plain from the reason of the rule given in the next verse. For the spirits of the prophets — Or the spiritual gifts bestowed on them, as the word

πνευματα is rendered, 1 Corinthians 14:12, and ought certainly to have been rendered here; are subject to the prophets — the meaning of the apostle is, that the impulses of the Holy Spirit, even in men really inspired, so suited themselves to their rational faculties, as not to divest them of the government of themselves, as was the case with the heathen priests and priestesses under their diabolical possessions; whom evil spirits often threw into such ungovernable ecstasies, as forced them to speak and act like mad persons. “Few of them,” says Bishop Potter, (Antiq., 1 Corinthians 2:12,) “that pretended to inspiration, but raged after this manner, foaming and yelling, and making a strange, terrible noise, sometimes gnashing their teeth, shivering and trembling, with a thousand antic motions. In short these rapti and Deo pleni, (persons enrapt and full of the god,) were beside themselves, and absolutely mad during the time of their inspirations.” But the Spirit of God left his prophets the clear use of their judgment, when and how long it was fit for them to speak, and never hurried them into any improprieties, either as to the matter, manner, or time of their speaking. Let all enthusiasts consider this! For God is not the author of confusion — Greek, ακαταστασιας, of disorder and disturbance; but of peace — And regularity; as in all the churches of the saints — As is practised in all the churches elsewhere. “How often,” says Dr. A. Clarke, “is the work of God marred and discredited by the folly of men! for nature will always, and Satan too, mingle themselves, as far as they can, in the genuine work of the Spirit, in order to discredit and destroy it. Nevertheless, in great revivals of religion, it is almost impossible to prevent wild fire from getting in among true fire: but it is the duty of the ministers of God to watch against and prudently check this; but if themselves encourage it, then there will be confusion and every evil work.”


Verse 34-35

1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Let your women, &c. — The last clause of the preceding verse is by some critics, and among the rest Bishop Pearce, joined with this, so as to make this sense; as in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in the churches, namely, of Achaia. According to this reading, by the churches of the saints, are meant the churches of Judea, in which the public worship and discipline was most perfect, because they had been planted and regulated by the apostles. The sense of this clause, let your women keep silence, &c, evidently is, that they were to be silent unless they had an extraordinary revelation to communicate, made to them by the Holy Spirit; to which revelations, chiefly predicting future events, what is said of their prophesying with their heads uncovered, (1 Corinthians 11:5,) evidently refers; and therefore implies no contradiction to what is here enjoined. For — In other cases, when no particular revelation is made to them; it is not permitted unto them to speak — By way of teaching in public assemblies; but to be under obedience — Greek, υποτασσεσθαι, to be under subjection to the superior authority of the man, whose proper office it is to lead and to instruct the congregation. As also saith the law — In recording that early sentence on Eve and her daughters for the first transgression, Genesis 3:16, To him shall be thy desire subjected, and he shall rule over thee. And if they desire to learn any thing — Still they are not to speak in public, but to ask their husbands at home — That is the place, and these the persons to inquire of. See note on 1 Timothy 2:11-14. For it is a shame αισχρον, indecent; for a woman to speak in the church — In an assembly of people, being inconsistent with that modesty, which is the woman’s greatest ornament.


Verses 36-38

1 Corinthians 14:36-38. What! came the word of God out from you? — Are ye of Corinth, the first church in the world, by whose example all others should be modelled? Or came it unto you only? — Are you the only Christian society that has received the true gospel? If not, conform herein to the custom of all the churches. These questions the apostle asks, to cut off every pretence for women’s teaching in the church. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual — Endowed with any extraordinary gift of the Spirit; let him acknowledge, &c. — Let him prove that he is indeed under the influence of the Divine Spirit, by his submission and obedience to these determinations, and confess that the things that I now write unto you are the commandments of the Lord — Dictated by inspiration from him. But if any man be ignorant — Or affect to appear uncertain about the truth of what I write; let him be ignorant — Let him remain so, and abide the consequences of his ignorance, whether real or affected.


Verse 39-40

1 Corinthians 14:39-40. Wherefore, brethren — To conclude this long discourse, and sum up the whole in a few words; covet to prophesy — To discourse about divine things in a way that will edify others; and yet forbid not — Those who are willing to do it under such regulations as have now been advanced; to speak with tongues — For it is a noble endowment, which I would encourage none to slight or neglect: only take care that all things — In your religious assemblies; be done decently and in order — Let all be conducted in a regular manner, to prevent such disturbances, disputes, and scandals for the future, as in time past have had place among you, and would proceed to greater evils if not immediately reformed. The precept given by the apostle in this verse, “is sometimes applied to support the use of rites and ceremonies in the worship of God, not commanded in Scripture. But any one who considers the place which it holds in this discourse, will be sensible that it hath no relation to rites and ceremonies, but to the decent and orderly exercise of the spiritual gifts. Yet by parity of reason, it may be extended even to the rites of worship, provided they are left free to be used by every one, as he sees them expedient.” — Macknight.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-corinthians-14.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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