Romans 3:5
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who takes vengeance? (I speak as a man)
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(5) But if our unrighteousness.—A new and profound question suggests itself to the mind of the Apostle, and his keen intellect will not let it go: “If the sin (here the unbelief) of man only tends to vindicate (commends or establishes) the righteousness of God, why should that sin be punished?” The mere raising of such a question requires an apology; it is only as a man might speak about man that he dares to utter such a thought. That, too, is an impossible objection, for if it held good there could not be any judgment. No sin would be punishable, for all sin would serve to emphasise the strict veracity of God in His denunciations of it, and therefore would ultimately conduce to His glory. It would thus cease to be sinful, and there would be nothing to hinder us from adopting the principle that is so calumniously attributed to us—that it is lawful to do evil that good may come. A calumny it is, and any such principle with all that appertains to it—i.e., with the whole of the preceding argument,—is justly condemned.

Romans 3:5-6. But — It may be further objected; if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God — Be subservient to God’s glory; or, if our infidelity be so far from making void the faithfulness of God, that it renders it more illustrious, then we ought not to be condemned for it. But Dr. Whitby understands, by the righteousness of God, the righteousness of faith, which indeed is generally the meaning of the phrase in this epistle; and, as in the first chapter the necessity of this faith is shown with respect to the Gentiles, because otherwise they, being unrighteous, could not be justified before God, or escape his wrath revealed against all unrighteousness; and in the second chapter the same is proved respecting the Jews by reason of their unrighteousness, which arguments plainly serve to commend and establish this way of righteousness by faith in Christ, from the necessity of it to the justification both of Jews and Gentiles; he therefore considers the import of the objection to be, “If the unrighteousness both of Jews and Gentiles tend so visibly to illustrate and recommend the wisdom and grace of God, in appointing this way of justification by faith in Christ, is it righteous in God to punish both Jews and Gentiles, as you say he has done and will do, for that unrighteousness that tends so highly to advance the glory of divine grace displayed in the gospel?” What shall we say — What inference shall we draw? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance — Must we grant that God acts unjustly in punishing those practices which so illustrate his mercy, faithfulness, and other perfections? I speak as a man — As a mere natural man, not acquainted with the revealed will of God, or not influenced by his Spirit; or as human weakness would be apt to speak. God forbid — That I should harbour such a thought, or allow such a consequence; for then — If it were unjust in him to punish that unrighteousness which is subservient to his own glory, how should God judge the world — Since all the unrighteousness in the world will then commend the righteousness of God. Add to this, the very idea of God’s judging the world, implies that it shall be done in righteousness. For if any person were to have injustice done him on that occasion, it would not be judgment, but a capricious exercise of power, whereby the Judge would be dishonoured. On this idea is founded the answer which Abraham made to God, respecting the destruction of Sodom, which answer perhaps the apostle had now in his eye, Genesis 18:25; Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?3:1-8 The law could not save in or from sins, yet it gave the Jews advantages for obtaining salvation. Their stated ordinances, education in the knowledge of the true God and his service, and many favours shown to the children of Abraham, all were means of grace, and doubtless were made useful to the conversion of many. But especially the Scriptures were committed to them. Enjoyment of God's word and ordinances, is the chief happiness of a people. But God's promises are made only to believers; therefore the unbelief of some, or of many professors, cannot make this faithfulness of no effect. He will fulfil his promises to his people, and bring his threatened vengeance upon unbelievers. God's judging the world, should for ever silence all doubtings and reflections upon his justice. The wickedness and obstinate unbelief of the Jews, proved man's need of the righteousness of God by faith, and also his justice in punishing for sin. Let us do evil, that good may come, is oftener in the heart than in the mouth of sinners; for few thus justify themselves in their wicked ways. The believer knows that duty belongs to him, and events to God; and that he must not commit any sin, or speak one falsehood, upon the hope, or even assurance, that God may thereby glorify himself. If any speak and act thus, their condemnation is just.But if our unrighteousness - If our sin. The particular sin which had been specified Romans 3:3 was "unbelief." But the apostle here gives the objection a general form. This is to be regarded as an objection which a Jew might make. The force of it is this:

(1) It had been conceded that some had not believed; that is, had sinned.

(2) but God was true to his promises. Notwithstanding their sin, God's character was the same. Nay,

(3) In the very midst of sin, and as one of the results of it, the character of God, as a just Being, shone out illustriously. The question then was,

(4) If his glory resulted from it; if the effect of all was to show that his character was pure; how could he punish that sin from which his own glory resulted? And this is a question which is often asked by sinners.

Commend - Recommend; show forth; render illustrious.

The righteousness of God - His just and holy character. This was the effect on David's mind, that he saw more clearly the justice of God in his threatenings against sin, in consequence of his own transgression. And if this effect followed, if honor was thus done to God, the question was, how he could consistently punish what tended to promote his own glory?

What shall we say? - What follows? or, what is the inference? This is a mode of speech as if the objector hesitated about expressing an inference which would seem to follow, but which was horrible in its character.

Is God unrighteous? - The meaning of this would be better expressed thus: "Is "not" God unrighteous in punishing? Does it not follow that if God is honored by sin, that it would be wrong for him to inflict punishment?"

Who taketh vengeance - The meaning of this is simply, "who inflicts punishment." The idea of vengeance is not necessarily in the original ὀργήν orgēn. It is commonly rendered "wrath," but it often means simply "punishment," without any reference to the state of the mind of him who inflicts it, Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36. Notes, Romans 1:18; Romans 4:15.

I speak as a man - I speak after the manner of human beings. I speak as appears to be the case to human view; or as would strike the human mind. It does not mean that the language was such as wicked people were accustomed to use; but that the objector expressed a sentiment which to human view would seem to follow from what had been said. This I regard as the language of an objector. It implies a degree of reverence for the character of God, and a seeming unwillingness to state an objection which seemed to be dishonorable to God, but which nevertheless pressed itself so strong on the mind as to appear irresistible. No way of stating the objection could have been more artful or impressive.

5, 6. But if, &c.—Another objection: "It would appear, then, that the more faithless we are, so much the more illustrious will the fidelity of God appear; and in that case, for Him to take vengeance on us for our unfaithfulness would be (to speak as men profanely do) unrighteousness in God."


But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God; an anticipation of another objection, which might be lnade upon the preceding words: that if the faithfulness of God, in keeping his promises, doth appear in and notwithstanding the unfaithfulness of men, then we gather thus much, that the fidelity of God is rendered a great deal more commendable by the perfidiousness of man.

What shall we say? Thus we object, or this will be the inconvenience.

Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? i.e. then God is unjust in punishing the Jews, or any other wicked men, for that which tends to his own glory, and the commendations of his veracity.

I speak as a man; this is the language of carnal men, and such blasphemy they speak; I recite the objection of some men, and speak after their carnal manner. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God,.... Hence it appears, that the unrighteousness of men commends the righteousness, or faithfulness of God; and yet all unrighteousness is sin; the wrath of God is revealed against it; and would exclude from heaven, were it not for pardon through the blood of Christ; and besides, the one is contrary to the other, and of itself, of its own nature, cannot influence and affect the other: wherefore this can only be understood of the manifestation and illustration of, the righteousness of God by it; which is covered and commended, in punishing the unrighteousness of men; in setting forth Christ to be a propitiation for sin; and in fulfilling his promises, notwithstanding the failings of his people, of which the case of David is a pregnant proof; just as the love of God is illustrated and commended, by the consideration of the sins of men, for whom Christ died, and his grace and mercy in the conversion of them: but if this be true,

what shall we say? shall we allow the following question to be put? this answers to , "what is there to say", or "to be said?" a way of speaking, often used by the Talmudists (n):

is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? if the premises are true, this is a just consequence of them; whereas God does take vengeance on men for their unrighteousness, both here and hereafter, it must be a piece of unrighteousness in him so to do; since that for which he takes vengeance on them commends his own righteousness; but that you may know as well by what follows, that this is not an inference of his own, but another's, he adds,

I speak as a man; , "according to the language of the children of men", a phrase often used by the Jewish doctors (o). The apostle did not speak the sentiments of his own mind, he represented another man, and spoke in the language of an adversary.

(n) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 4. 1. & passim. (o) T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 11. 1. & passim.

{2} But if our {g} unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as {h} a man)

(2) Another objection resulting from the former answer: that the justice of God is commended and set forth by our unrighteousness in such a way that God does not therefore forget that he is the judge of the world, and therefore a most severe avenger of unrighteousness.

(g) Treachery, and all the fruits of it.

(h) Therefore I do not speak these words of my own accord, as though this is what I thought, but this is the talk of man's wisdom, which is not subject to the will of God.

Romans 3:5-6. In Romans 3:3-4 it was declared that the unbelief of a part of the Jews would not make void the truthfulness of God, but that, on the contrary, the latter should be triumphantly justified. But how easily might this be misconstrued by a Jew of the common type as a pretext for his immorality: “the unrighteousness of man in fact brings out more clearly the righteousness of God, and therefore may not be righteously punished by God!” To preclude this misconception and false inference, which so abruptly run counter to his doctrine of universal human guilt, and to leave no pretext remaining (observe beforehand the τί οὖν; προεχόμεθα in Romans 3:9), Paul, having in view such thoughts of an antagonist, proposes to himself and his readers the question: “But if our unrighteousness show forth the righteousness of God, what shall we say (infer)? Is God then unrighteous, who inflicteth wrath?” And he disposes of it in the first instance by the categorical answer (Romans 3:6): No, otherwise God could not be judge of the world. The assumption, that this question is occasioned really and seriously by what goes before, and called forth from the Apostle himself (Hofmann), is rendered untenable by the very addition κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω.

ἡ ἀδικία ἡμῶν] Quite general: our unrighteousness, abnormal moral condition. To this general category belongs also the ἀπιστία, Romans 3:3. Paul has regarded the possible Jewish misconception, the notion of which occasions his question, as a general, but for that reason all the more dangerous inference from Romans 3:3-4, in which the words ἀδικία and δικαιοσύνη are suggested by the passage from the Psalms in Romans 3:4.

ἡμῶν] is said certainly in the character of the ἀδικοί in general, and stands in relation to the πᾶς δὲ ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης in Romans 3:4. But as the whole context is directed against the Jews, and the application to these is intended in the general expressions, and indeed expressly made in Romans 3:19, Paul speaks here also in such a way that the Jewish consciousness, from which, as himself a Jew, he speaks, lies at the bottom of the general form of his representation.

The protasis εἰ.… συνίστησι is a concessum, which is in itself correct (Romans 3:4); but the inference, which the Jewish self-justification might draw from it, is rejected with horror. Observe in this protasis the emphatic juxtaposition ἡμῶν Θεοῦ; and in the apodosis the accent which lies on ἄδικος and τὴν ὀργήν.

Θεοῦ δικαιοσ. συνίστησι] proves God’s righteousness (comp Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Galatians 2:18; Susann. 61; frequently in Polyb. Philo, etc.); makes it apparent beyond doubt, that God is without fault, and such as He must be. The contrast to Ἡ ἈΔΙΚΊΑ ἩΜῶΝ requires ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣ. to be taken thus generally, and forbids its being explained of a particular attribute (truth: Beza, Piscator, Estius, Koppe, and others; goodness: Chrysostom, Theodoret, Grotius, Rosenmuller), as well as its being taken in the sense of Romans 1:17 (van Hengel).

The τί ἐρούμεν (3 Esr. 8:82) is used by Paul only in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 4:1, Romans 6:1, Romans 7:7, Romans 8:31, Romans 9:14; Romans 9:30). Compare, however, generally on such questions arousing interest and enlivening the representation, Blomfield, Gloss. in Aesch. Pers. 1013, Dissen, a[748] Dem, de cor. p. 346 f.

ΜῊ ἌΔΙΚΟς Ὁ ΘΕῸς Ὁ ἘΠΙΦ. Τ. ὈΡΓΉΝ] This question[749] is so put that (as in Romans 3:3) a negative answer is expected, since Paul has floating before his mind an impious objection conceived of κατὰ ἄνθρωπον. See Hermann, a[750] Viger. p. 789, 810; Hartung, Partikell. II. p. 159; Baeumlein, p. 302 f. Hence: God is not unrighteous then, who dealeth wrath? This in opposition to Rückert and Philippi, who make the questioner expect an affirmative answer, which can never be the case. In those passages in Greek authors, where an affirmative reply notwithstanding follows, it invariably does so contrary to the expectation of the questioner; see Kühner, II. 2, p. 1024. ἄδικος, prefixed with emphasis, is, on account of its relation to ὁ ἐπιφ. τ. ὀργήν, to be understood in the strict judicial signification unrighteous, which is confirmed by Romans 3:6-7. For examples of ἐπιφέρειν used to express the practical infliction of wrath or punishment see Raphel, Polyb.; Kypke, II. p. 160. The article with the participle indicates the relation as well-known; and τὴν ὀργήν (Sin.* adds αὐτοῦ) denotes the wrath definitely conceived of as judicial, inflicted at the judgment. Compare Ritschl, de ira Dei, p. 15.

κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω] To preclude his being misunderstood, as if he were asking εἰ δὲ ἡ ἀδικία ἡμῶν.… μὴ ἄδικος κ.τ.λ[751] from his own enlightened Christian view, Paul remarks parenthetically that he says this according to a human standard (Bernhardy, p. 241), after the fashion of ordinary humanity, quite apart from his own higher standpoint of divine enlightenment, to which the idea expressed in that question would be foreign, and speaking only in accordance with mere human reason. Compare 1 Corinthians 9:8; Galatians 3:15; Soph. Aj. 761: κατʼ ἄνθρωπον φρονεῖ. “I say this just as an ordinary man, not under the influence of the divine Spirit, may well say it.” Respecting the expression ΚΑΤᾺ ἌΝΘΡ., which is capable according to the context of great variety of meaning, compare Fritzsche in loc[752] It is wrongly inferred from ΚΑΤᾺ ἌΝΘΡ. ΛΈΓΩ that the question ΜῊ ἌΔΙΚΟς Κ.Τ.Λ[753] was meant to receive an affirmative answer, because as a negative query it would not be κατὰ ἄνθρ. (see Philippi). But this view overlooks the fact that the whole thought, which is implied in the question calculated though it is for a negative reply,—the thought of the unrighteousness of God in punishing—can in fact only be put into expression κατὰ ἄνθρωπον; in the higher Christian insight a conception so blasphemous and deserving of abhorrence can find neither place nor utterance. The apology however, involved in κατὰ ἄνθρ. λέγω, is applicable only to what goes before, not to what follows, to which Mehring, Th. Schott and Hofmann refer it. This is the more obvious, since what immediately follows is merely a repudiating μὴ γένοιτο, and the ἐπεί κ.τ.λ[754], which assigns the ground for this repudiation, is by no means an idea outside the range of revelation, the application of which to a rational inference, and one too so plainly right, cannot transfer it to the lower sphere of the κατὰ ἄνθρ. λέγειν.

Romans 3:6. ἘΠΕΊ] gives the ground of the ΜῊ ΓΈΝΟΙΤΟ; for (if the God who inflicts wrath is unrighteous) how will it be possible that He shall judge the world? The future is to be left in its purely future sense, since it refers to a future act taking place at any rate, as to which the only difficulty would be to see how it was to be accomplished, if, etc. On ἐπεί, for otherwise, see Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 308. κρινεῖ has the emphasis.

ΤῸΝ ΚΌΣΜΟΝ is to be taken, with most expositors, generally as meaning all mankind (compare Romans 3:19). To be judge of the world and yet, as ἐπιφέρων τ. ὀργ., to be ἌΔΙΚΟς, is a contradiction of terms; the certainty that God is the former would become an impossibility if He were the latter. Compare Genesis 18:25. Koppe, Reiche, Schrader, Olshausen, and Jatho, following older authorities, take it only of the Gentile world (Romans 11:12; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 11:32): “In that case God could not punish even the Gentile world for its idolatry, since it is only in contrast therewith that the true worship of God appears in its full value” (Reiche) But, in this explanation, the very essential idea: “since.… appears” has first of all to be imported, an expedient which, in presence of the simplicity and clearness of our view, cannot but seem arbitrary. Even the following proof, Romans 3:7 f., does not present a reference directly to the judgment of the Gentiles. The argument itself rests on the premiss that God can carry out the judgment of the world only as One who is righteous in His decreeing of wrath. The opposite would be impossible, not only subjectively, in God Himself (Th. Schott), but also objectively, as standing in contradiction to the notion of a world-judgment. See Romans 3:7 f. This proposition however is so perfectly certain to the consciousness of faith, out of which Paul asserts it, that there is no ground either for complaining of the weakness of the proof (Rückert), or for reading the thoughts that form the proof between the lines (Fritzsche and Mehring, with varying arbitrariness); the more especially as afterwards, in Romans 3:7, a still further confirmation of the ἐπεί.… κόσμον follows.

[748] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[749] After μή, ἐροῦμεν is not again to be understood, and then ἄδικος κ.τ.λ. to be taken as a question ensuing thereon (Mangold, p. 106). A breaking up of the construction without due ground. Compare, rather, Romans 9:14, a passage which in form also is perfectly parallel to this one.

[750] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[751] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[752] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[753] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[754] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.Romans 3:5 f. Here another attempt is made to invalidate the conclusion of chap. 2, that the Jew is to be judged “according to his works,” exactly like the Gentile. If the argument of Romans 3:3 f. is correct, the unbelief of the Jews actually serves to set off the faithfulness of God: it makes it all the more conspicuous; how then can it leave them exposed to judgment? This argument is generalised in Romans 3:5 and answered in Romans 3:6. “If our unrighteousness” (in the widest sense, ἀδικία being generalised from πίστις, Romans 3:3) demonstrates (cf. Romans 5:8) God’s righteousness (also in the widest sense, δικαιοσύνη being generalised from πίστις, Romans 3:3), what shall we say? i.e., what inference shall we draw? Surely not that God, He who inflicts the wrath due to unrighteousness at the last day (Romans 1:18), is Himself unrighteous, to speak as men speak. Away with the thought! If this were so, how should God judge the world? That God does judge the world at last is a fixed point both for Paul and those with whom he argues; hence every inference which conflicts with it must be summarily set aside. God could not judge at all if He were unjust; therefore, since He does judge, He is not unjust, not even in judging men whose unrighteousness may have served as a foil to His righteousness. It is not thus that the conclusions of chap. 2 can be evaded by the Jew. ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν: the “attributive participle equivalent to a relative clause, may, like a relative clause, convey a subsidiary idea of cause, purpose, condition or concession” (Burton, Moods and Tenses, § 428, who renders here: is God unrighteous, who (because He) visiteth with wrath?). κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω: cf. Galatians 3:15, Romans 6:19, 1 Corinthians 9:8. There is always something apologetic in the use of such expressions. Men forget the difference between God and themselves when they contemplate such a situation as that God should be unrighteous; obviously it is not to be taken seriously. Still, in human language such suppositions are made, and Paul begs that in his lips they may not be taken for more than they really mean.5. unrighteousness … righteousness] General terms, but implying the special forms of unbelief and fidelity. Man’s mistrust is awfully unjust to God; God’s fidelity to His promise is just to Himself and His holiness.—See below on Romans 3:21 for the exceptional meaning here of “the Righteousness of God[33].”

[33] It is possible, however, that the meaning assigned to the phrase in note on Romans 1:17, may be the meaning even here: q.d., “What if our sin should illustrate (by contrast or otherwise) God’s Way of Acceptance?”

Is God unrighteous, &c.?] This question (the Opponent’s) is a serious grammatical difficulty in the Gr. The interrogative particle is that which regularly expects the answer “No.” But the turn of this argument suggests a question (from the Opponent) expecting “Yes.” (The above use of the particle in question is not quite invariable in Gr., but it holds in all other cases in St Paul.) To us it seems that the solution is as follows: The Apostle gives the Opponent’s question, but jealousy for God’s honour compels him to modify it by his own intense sense of the Divine righteousness. The Opponent demands the answer “Yes;” St Paul is forced to make him, grammatically, demand the answer “No.” Instead of his would-be “Is not God unrighteous, &c.?” it thus stands, “Is God unrighteous, &c.?”—in which at most the question is left, verbally, open.

taketh vengeance] Lit. inflicteth the wrath; i.e. the wrath merited by the special sin; the wrath which had fallen on Israel.

I speak as a man] i.e. “on merely human principles, from mere man’s point of view.” This serious questioning about right and wrong in the Eternal and His acts is, in St Paul’s view, “speaking as man.” In the light of the Holy Spirit’s teaching it is impossible, unless (as here) by way of a mere argumentative formula.Romans 3:5. Εὶ δὲ, but if) This new argument, urged through a Jewish person, is elicited from the verb thou mayest be justified, in the preceding verse.—ἡ ἀδικία, unrighteousness) of which a man is guilty through unbelief.—τι ἐροῦμεν, what shall we say) Paul shows that this, their peculiar advantage [Romans 3:1], does not prevent the Jews from being under sin.—ὁ ἐπιφέρων) the inflicter of wrath [taketh vengeance] upon the unbelieving Jews. The article has a particular force. The allusion is to Psalm 7:11, ὁ Θεὸς κριτὴς δίκαιος, και μὴ (אַל for אֵל; the LXX. from the similarity of letters, mistaking God for not], ἑπάγων ὀργὴν καθʼ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν: God is a just judge, and (not being substituted for God) a God inflicting wrath.—κατὰ ἄνθρωπον, as a man) Man, according to the principles of human nature, might reason thus: My wickedness is subservient to the Divine glory, and makes it the more conspicuous, as darkness doth the light; therefore, I should not be punished.Verses 5, 6. - But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall We say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (so the Authorized Version; rather, brings the wrath upon us (ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν), with reference to the Divine wrath against sin, spoken of above). I speak after the manner of men. God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world! The purport of this reply appears sufficiently in the paraphrase given above. But the intended Bearing on the argument of ver. 7 is not at once apparent. Commend (συνίστησιν)

Only twice outside of Paul's writings, Luke 9:32; 2 Peter 3:5, both in the physical sense. Lit., to place together. Hence of setting one person with another by way of introducing or presenting him, and hence to commend. Also to put together with a vein of showing, proving, or establishing. Expositors render here differently: commend, establish, prove. Commend is the prevailing sense in the New Testament, though in some instances the two ideas blend, as Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Galatians 2:18. See Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 10:18.

Who taketh vengeance (ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν)

Rev., much better, who visiteth with wrath. Lit., bringeth the anger to bear. The force of the article it is difficult to render. It may be the wrath, definitely conceived as judicial, or, more probably, as in Matthew 3:7, referring to something recognized - the wrath to come, the well-understood need of unrighteousness. See on Romans 12:19.

As a man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον)

Rev., after the manner of men; i.e., I use a mode of speech drawn from human affairs. The phrase is thrown in apologetically, under a sense that the mode of speech is unworthy of the subject. Morison aptly paraphrases: "When I ask the question, 'Is God unjust who inflicteth wrath?' I am deeply conscious that I am using language which is intrinsically improper when applied to God. But in condescension to human weakness I transfer to Him language which it is customary for men to employ when referring to human relationships." Compare 1 Corinthians 9:8; Romans 6:19.

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