A Critique of the Redeemed Creation Position

When I started my series on “The Christian and Creation” several months ago, my intention was stated from the beginning: to present my view on the redemption of creation (often referred to as the New Heavens, New Earth/renovated earth position) in order to articulate my beliefs, as well as offer them up for critique. In the weeks that have followed I’ve enjoyed several conversations with good brethren who disagree. These moments have blessed me in so many ways, and have restored my faith in the church as to our ability to disagree without malice and with the aim toward Christian unity. 

At the same time, I know that many aren’t privy to those private conversations, and thus I wanted to present a critique of my position that was accessible to others. With that, I asked my brother in Christ, Andy Erwin, if I could present his critique of the position on my blog; With his permission, this article presents just that.  While this article wasn’t written in response to my series, I believe it does an excellent job explaining the dissenting viewpoint. Andy is not only a faithful brother in Christ, but an instructor in various schools of preaching, with graduate degrees, and will soon finish a Ph.D in interdisciplinary studies. I appreciate his scholarship and Christ-like spirit. Be sure to read his thorough commentary on this subject, but more importantly, let us all do our best (myself included) to reflect his genuine, godly, spirit. 

Grace and peace, JHR 

The New Heavens and the New Earth: Do the Arguments in Favor of a Renewed Earth Merit the Support the Theory Receives?

by Andy Erwin

Only four passages in the Bible mention specifically a new heaven and a new earth – two in the Old Testament (Isa 65:17; 66:22), and two in the New Testament (2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:2).[1] These passages have excited students of the Scriptures for centuries – both in rabbinic and early Christian writings;[2] and they continue to stimulate scholarly dialogue today.  Among evangelical scholars, the most often stated interpretation of these passages is that of a renewed, renovated earth.

H.C. Thiessen explains, “The passages of Scripture which speak of the earth passing away (Matt 5:18; Mark 13:31; Heb 1:10-13; Rev 21:1) do not signify a passing into nonexistence, but rather they suggest the idea of transition. Neither heaven nor earth will be annihilated.”  Jack Cottrell believes the earth will merely be “closed for renovations” and that the redeemed will inhabit an “updated, deluxe model of the orb on which we dwell.”

It is generally accepted among these scholars that Christ died not only to redeem fallen man, but also to redeem a fallen cosmos. Anthony Hoekema explains the premise for the renewed earth stating, “The work of Christ, therefore, is not just to save certain individuals, not even to save an innumerable throng of blood-bought people. The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin.”[3]  Accordingly, this “regeneration or new creation encompasses much more than individual Christians or even the people of God collectively…It is a vision of cosmic redemption and salvation…a renovated and renewed creation.”[4]

However, scholars who believe in a renewed cosmos remain faced with the task of harmonizing the “Scripture’s teachings regarding the future redemption of creation with teachings that appear to be intentionally predicting its destruction.”[5]  Such a statement presumes the “Scripture’s teachings regarding the future redemption of creation.” Could this presumption cause scholars to interpret the new heavens and new earth passages with bias?

Many attempts to harmonize the renewed cosmos theory and the passages which seem to suggest otherwise have been made in recent years. In this article we shall examine some of the most prevalent arguments in defense of the renewed cosmos.

Necessary Word Studies

It is very often asserted that the Hebrew and Greek adjectives translated “new” in these passages are best rendered “renewed,” “restored,” or “refreshed.”  Hoekema provides a brief discussion for the Greek adjective καινος (kainos).[6] He reasons, if a completely “new” earth had been the intent of 2 Pet 3:10-13 and Rev 21:2, the adjective would have been νεος (neos). Seeing that the text uses kainos, Hoekema believes, Peter must have been affirming that this world would be gloriously renewed.

Kainos,” according to W.E. Vine, “denotes new, of that which is unaccustomed or unused, not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old.”[7]Neos,” on the other hand, “signifies new in respect of time, that which is recent; it is used of the young…”[8] Oftentimes, we find neos referring to a person who is young or younger.

However, according to Vine, “what is neos may be a reproduction of the old in quality or character.”[9] Thus, Peter very well could have used the adjective neos had he wanted to speak of a reproduction of the old earth. Moreover, kainos could easily connote a “completely new earth,” as Kittle notes, “καινος is what is new in nature, different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value and attraction…In the NT means ‘not yet used’…and able and ordained as such to replace and excel the old.”[10] Kittle continues, “καινος is the epitome of the wholly different and miraculous thing which is brought by the time of salvation. Hence ‘new’ is a leading teleological term in apocalyptic promise: a new heaven and a new earth…”[11]

Obviously word studies of this nature can be complicated, especially when two words are often used interchangeably, as is the case with neos and kainos. Both words are used to refer to the new man (kainos in Eph 2:15; neos in Col 3:10); new covenant (kainos in Heb 8:8, 13; 9:15; and neos in Heb 12:24); and new wine (kainos in Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; and neos in Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22; Lk 5:37-39).[12] In an effort to maintain a distinction between these words R.C. Trench writes,

Some scholars have denied that there is any difference between neos and kainos in the New Testament. Such scholars gain plausible support for their position from the fact that both of these words are translated ‘new’ in the Authorized Version and often are used interchangeably. Although they contend that neos and kainos have the same force and significance, this does not follow and is in fact not the case. The same man or the same wine many be neos or kainos or both, according to one’s perspective.[13]

When we study these words in the NT, we can possibly find some distinction between the terms and their intended significance, but it is far from being universal. We agree with Silva and contend, “It would be more accurate to say that καινος and νεος have considerable semantic overlap, so that in many or even most contexts they are genuinely interchangeable, but that in many other contexts one is more likely to be used than the other.”[14]

One such example is found in Matt 9:17, where we find absolutely no distinction between the terms.[15]  Both neos and kainos are translated “new” with the same meaning clearly intended.

As we study the meaning of these Greek adjectives, we should also consider the Isaiah passages (65:17 and 66:22) and the Hebrew word translated “new.” The word isחדשׁ  (hadash). It is believed that Isaiah’s meaning for hadash is “a miraculous transformation… to be miraculously renewed.”[16] However, that hadash should be translated “new” in these passages is affirmed by an overwhelming array of witnesses. The adjective translated “new” is thus considered “new” both in the sense of recent or fresh (as the opposite of old) and in the sense of something not previously existing.[17] Lexicons agree that hadash is new; fresh, unheard of;[18] new;[19] new, new thing, fresh;[20] new, fresh;[21] new, recent, fresh.[22]

The word occurs 53 times in the Old Testament. Of these 53 occurrences, only one suggests the possibility of a thing being “renewed,” but it would probably be better translated “fresh” (Lamentations 3:22-23). [23]  The remaining 52 occurrences are undoubtedly best translated as new, fresh, recent, or unheard of. In fact, that hadash is translated “new” in these 52 verses is the consensus among all major English translations. Moreover, “It is also noteworthy that חדשׁ is rendered by νεος only 4x, but by καινος in almost every other instance”[24] which again speaks to the fact that kainos can mean “new” as well as “renewed.”[25]

It is also interesting to note that Isaiah used the words bara (“I create;” 65:17) and asah (“I will make;” 66:22). Bara is frequently found in parallel to asah (Is 41:20; 43:7; 45:7, 12; Amos 4:13).[26] Isaiah even places these words together on one occasion in 45:18: “God, Who formed (bara) the earth and made (asah) it…”[27]

When Isaiah desired to use a verb conveying the idea of renewing, he did so. On two occasions (40:31 and 41:1), Isaiah used the verb halaph, which means to renew (NKJV; ESV). Isaiah also could have used the verb form of hadash (see 1 Sam 11:14; Ps 51:10; Lam 5:21). Instead, Isaiah used verbs which convey the idea of creation ex nihilo (see Gen 1:1; 2:3; Isa 40:26; 42:5). In 40:26 and 42:5, Isaiah obviously refers to creation from nothing. For 65:17 to mean renew, it would be contrary not only to the normal usage of the hadash in the OT, but also to the normal usage of the verbs bara and asah in the OT in general and in Isaiah in particular. The Lord, through Isaiah, is clearly using the language of creation to announce a new heavens and new earth.[28]

Heide’s “Interpretive Translation” of 2 Pet 3:10-13

Gale Heide has asked, “How are we to harmonize Scripture’s teachings regarding the future redemption of creation with teachings that appear to be intentionally predicting its destruction?”[29]  In attempting to provide harmony between the theory and the text, Heide provides the following “interpretive translation” for 2 Pet 3:10-13:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens as we know them will pass from sight with a roar and the order of this world will be refined with intense heat, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare for judgment. Since all these things are to be refined in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, anticipating and hastening the day of God, when the heavens will be refined by burning and the impure order of this world will melt in the intense heat of judgment! But according to his promise we are looking for renewed heavens and a renewed earth, in which righteousness dwells.[30]

As we look into his interpretive translation, a few points must be made: (1) many key words are given a different meaning; (2) the text cannot be preached this way in its biblical context with its literal meaning; and (3) the presupposition provided by Heide would have to be introduced to the audience or reader before any exegesis could begin.

Concerning the heavens, Heide adds the phrase “as we know them.” This phrase is not in the text of any Greek MS, nor does it appear in any Greek NT.

Heide renders the verb, λυθήσεται, as “refined.”  Bauer offers the following possibilities for an accurate translation depending on the context: loose, untie, set free, destroy, bring to an end, abolish.[31] As you can see, “refine” is not given.[32]  According to the text, the “things” which shall be destroyed and dissolved refer back to the earth and the works that are in it – its elements.  Davids cites one possible explanation for the “elements” as being the four basic elements of the natural cosmos; these being earth, air, fire, and water. However, he believes, though not too dogmatically, that these elements refer only to the heavens.[33]

Concerning the translation of εὑρεθήσεται (shall be found, as in the final judgment;[34] or disclosed[35]), Heide renders it, “laid bare for judgment.”  On this point we should note that the newest edition of the Nestle-Aland text (NA 28) has now rendered this verse, “οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται” literally meaning “it will not be found.” Thus, the text should now be translated, “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be destroyed with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will not be found.”[36]

An Inconsistency?

Peter Davids has stated that he believes the heavens will be entirely new while the earth will be renewed or renovated.[37] You will note that this interpretation would allow kainos to mean “entirely new” when referring to the heavens, but “renewed” when referring to the earth. This seems to be placing a subjective definition arbitrarily upon these words.

We must now consider Rev 21:1-2, as we find the first heaven and the first earth passing away, just as Peter described in greater detail.[38] We find that the new earth differs from the old earth as there is no longer any sea. The new heavens are also different from the old heavens as they are without the sun and the moon (cf. 21:23). The sun and the moon, along with all the host of the heavens, passed away with a great noise (roar, NASB), and the elements were destroyed with intense heat. As Jesus said, Peter and John affirm, “…heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt 24:35). Clearly, “It is not a picture of renovation of this earth, but of the disappearance of this earth and sky.”[39]

Among some preachers in the Restoration Movement we find an inconsistency on this point. T.W. Brents believed “everything created by God will exist, in some form, as long as he will exist – eternally.” [40] We should ask, what about the sun, moon, and sea?

The wording of Rev 21:23 is based on Isa 60:19.[41] Note, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory.”

Are we to believe that Christ’s regeneration is of “cosmic proportions,”[42] and that “…the whole creation will share this deliverance and be freed from the corruption and mortality to which it has been subjected by the sin of man”? [43] If so, why does this not apply to the sun, moon, and sea? Why does a ‘new earth’ require renewing of the old; yet, ‘new heavens’ can include the annihilation of the old and creation of something that is altogether new?

Lipscomb also recognized that material heavens would be unnecessary in his work Salvation from Sin:

This kingdom of Jesus Christ, outlasting all earthly kingdoms, will pass into the new heaven and the new earth, and will constitute the New Jerusalem, which in the renovated earth will come down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, as the tabernacle or dwelling place of God with men, in which he will dwell with them and be an ever-present God to guide and direct among his own people….In this city of God, the new Jerusalem, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb shall be the temple of it. It shall need neither sun, moon, nor stars; for the glory of God and the Lamb is the light of it.[44]

Mounce sees this inconsistency in the theory and attempts to correct it by suggesting that “John is not supplying his readers with information about future astrological changes but setting forth by means of accepted apocalyptic imagery the splendor that will radiate from the presence of God and the Lamb.[45]

However, we ask, what function would they serve if not to give light? The sun and moon have been placed to mark time, and time will cease to function in eternity – a point which is repeated by John (Rev 22:5).[46] [47]

Important Texts to Consider

When faced with Peter’s language of a complete destruction of the earth (2 Pet 3:10-13), Heide asks, “how are we to understand the redemption of creation promised by Paul (Rom 8:18-25)?”[48]  Hicks and Valentine have suggested:

According to Romans 18:19-23, the creation, including our bodies, was subjected to the futility and bondage of a fallen world. God subjected the world to frustration in the hope of liberating the creation from its bondage. This world, full of its sin, violence and disease, is not the world God created. God’s good creation has been marred, but his redemptive intent is to renew it…In the end, God will reverse the curse and renew the earth, living among his people just as he did in the Garden. [49]

I.B. Grubbs strongly opposed this view stating, “This does not mean the material creation personified, as some would say – such talk is fancy and not exegesis.”[50] He believed the passage referred to the redemption of the body.  Perhaps Grubbs had a point – perhaps not.

In the previous verses Paul is clearly discussing our hope of being glorified together with Christ (v.17). He teaches that life will be given “to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (v.11). Paul’s discussion in Rom 8 is also along the same lines of his teaching on the resurrection in other such passages (see 1 Cor 15:35 ff; Phil 3:21; 1 Thess 4:13 ff).  The suffering and even persecution which Christians face in this life cannot be compared to the pleasures, joy, and glory to be revealed “in us” (v.18). The physical body will be delivered from the bondage of corruption (decay) when it shall be changed in the resurrection into a spiritual body. Paul uses the same contrast between corruption and incorruption with clear regard for the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:42 ff.

God’s creation, the body, does indeed earnestly expect and await the resurrection, when our new bodies shall be revealed (cf. 1 John 3:2). Moreover, it is not unusual for Paul to speak of Christians as a “creation” (Col 1:15), specifically a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The Lord did the same when He spoke of “every creature” (see Mark 16:15). Moreover, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We groan within ourselves and eagerly await the resurrection – i.e. the redemption of the body (v.23). Thus, the redemption of the body, not the cosmos, could very well be the topic of discussion.

On the other hand, a closer look at the text seems to indicate a comparison being made. According to Paul, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs” and “we also…even we ourselves groan within ourselves” (vv.22-23). This comparison cannot be ignored in our interpretation and understanding of the text. ).  If Paul is speaking of the earth as the “whole creation,” it would obviously be anthropomorphic language. The earth would be represented with human qualities through a figure of speech known as personification if such was the case. However, such a conclusion does not necessitate a renewal of the earth. God can bring forth the birth of a new heavens and new earth through renewal or ex nihilo.

In Eph 1:9-10, Paul mentions “the fullness of the times” when God will gather together “all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” In Col 1:19-20, Paul writes about the reconciliation of things in on earth and in heaven. These passages are also important to the theory of a renewed creation.[51] In these passages Middleton believes, “Paul does not myopically limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to humanity. Rather, the reconciliation with God effected by Christ’s shed blood is applied as comprehensively as possible to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”[52] [53]

Again we ask, is this really Paul’s message? Or, could this interpretation the consequence of reading into the text the renewed creation theory? Could it not be true that Paul is herein utilizing a figure of speech known as a metonymy? In a metonymy of the subject, the subject is put for the adjunct, and in this case, the place or the thing containing it, is put for the thing which is being contained.[54]  Examples of metonymy of the subject, wherein the world is put for its inhabitants is a figure often employed by John (see John 1:10; 3:16, 17; 6:33; 7:7; 14:17, 31; 17:21; 1 John 2:2; 3:1; 5:19). But, the figure of speech is also used by Paul (see Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 4:9; 11:32; 2 Cor 5:19) and we believe this could be the case in these passages.

In the epistle to Ephesus, Paul speaks of the “mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (1:9-10). Allowing Paul to be his own commentator, in Eph 3:3 ff., we find that the “mystery” under consideration, which was being revealed to Paul at that time – in the fullness of times – was “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (3:6). This is the “fellowship of the mystery” between Jews and Gentiles – all creation – in the church, according to His eternal purpose (3:8-13). Moreover, the “redemption of the purchased possession,” has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, and thus has a guarantee of an inheritance (1:13-15). The redeemed possession has been purchased by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit; neither of which can be said about the cosmos, but both can be said about the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 3:16-17).

In Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, those things in heaven and earth being reconciled to God and receiving peace with God are thus reconciled “through the blood of His cross” (1:20). For whom did Jesus shed His blood? Paul tells us in Acts 20:28 and in Eph 5:25 that Christ’s blood bought the church. The church has redemption through His blood (Eph 1:7). Jesus experienced death for every man (Heb 2:9) and will save those who obey Him (Heb 5:8-9). Individuals are reconciled to God by His blood and the word of reconciliation. In this sense, it seems likely that the “world” is reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:19).

One last passage to consider is Acts 3:21. Here we find a statement being made by Peter regarding the “restoration of all things.” David Lipscomb believed, “‘The restitution of all things’ refers to the restoration of God’s order and rule on the earth, which had been disturbed by the rebellion of man and the transfer of the earth to the evil one” which would occur at Christ’s return.[55] This may be the case, but it does not necessarily imply a renewed or redeemed earth. God’s order could be restored on an earth that was altogether “new” just the same as it could be restored on a “renewed” earth.

Conclusion

As we conclude, I would like to make a personal observation. Speaking personally, if I am wrong in my understanding of the destruction of the earth, and our God desires to renovate this earth and use it for our eternal home, I will be perfectly happy to be there with you. If I am correct in my understanding, and God chooses to destroy this cosmos, and create an altogether new and eternal cosmos, I will be perfectly happy to be there with you. Either way, I am determined to care for this world as a good steward, regardless of its fate. I will continue to plant trees and care for it, simply because God has set man over the works of His hands (Heb 1:7). We should care for this marvelous creation knowing that it is a work of God.

The object of this paper has simply been to weigh the arguments in favor of the theory of the renewed cosmos and the evidence used to sustain them. My conclusion is that the arguments used to support a renewed earth do not merit the overwhelming support the theory has received, especially among evangelicals. It appears that much inference is being done, but the inferences are not always necessary.

Moreover, too many questions remain pertaining to 2 Pet 3:10-13. The passage provides a definitive statement that cannot be treated lightly or re-translated to fit a preconceived notion. Peter provides information Isaiah did not have; and it seems reasonable to suggest that we cannot interpret one without the other. John provides information not found in Peter or Isaiah. When we place the three together we have a picture that does not seem consistent with the renewed earth theory.

One last point should also be considered; namely, how are we to consider the writings and views of our brotherhood ancestors? Surely none of these men would want us to stop studying, or to limit our studies only to their writings. Yet, neither should we dismiss their writings as being uninformed and without scholarship. Clearly, many of these men were brilliant students of God’s word. We should accept these writings for what they are – the writings of good men who were seeking to understand the way of God more perfectly. Let us strive to be and to do the same.

“Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?”

 

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bauckham, Richard. Jude-2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary). Grand Rapids: MI Zondervan, 1983.

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Literature, edited by Fredrick William Danker, third edition. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000.

Beale, G.K. and Carson, D.A.  Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

Brents, T.W. Gospel Sermons. Nashville, TN: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1918.

Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, and Wilhelm Gensenius. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gensenius Hebrew and English Lexicon. Lafayette, IN: Associated Publishers and Authors, 1978.

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Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All: Bible Doctrine for Today. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2006.

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deSilva, D.A. “Heaven, New Heavens,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1997.

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Heide, Gale Z. “What is New about the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no.1 (March 1997): 37-56.

Helyer, Larry R. The Life and Witness of Peter. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012.

Hicks, John Mark and Bobby Valentine. Kingdom Come: Embracing the Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2006.

Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

Holliday, William L. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

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Kittel, Gerhard ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol.3, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

Lipscomb, David. Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Nashville, TN: McQuiddy Printing Co., 1896. Salvation from Sin, J.W. Shepherd, ed. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1950. and Shepherd, J.W. Romans. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1943.

Middleton, J. Richard. A New Heaven and a New Earth. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014.

“A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Case for a Holistic Reading of the Biblical Story of Redemption.” Journal for Christian Theological Research 11 (2006): 73-97.

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Westermann, Claus. Isaiah 40-66 (The Old Testament Library). Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969.

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Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

 

 

One thought on “A Critique of the Redeemed Creation Position

  1. A very interesting and detailed rebuttal of renewed creation. There is plenty to think and study on, that much is for sure. One observation I have in regards to the comments on 1Peter is that in Peter’s letter Peter compares the future destruction of the current world with the previous destruction of the world in Noah’s day. This is important to the interpretation of Peter’s comments regarding the upcoming destruction of our current world. The world in Noah’s day was not utterly annihilated, but rather cleansed and broken down by the flood and then re-created from what remained. If Peter’s comparison is taken at face value then it seems that our current world will be cleansed by fire in a similar manner as the world of Noah’s day was cleansed by water. If this is an accurate understanding of Peter then our current heavens and earth will be renewed rather than annihilated.

    Like

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