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Geneva Bible Compared With Orthodox Study Bible


See online version here.

See online version here.











Third of a four part review of the Geneva Bible       Part 1       Part 2

Study bibles do more than help the reader understand the Bible, they also shape the reader’s theology according to a particular faith tradition.  This can be seen in the Geneva Bible and the Orthodox Study Bible.  I will show this by laying out side by side their respective marginal comments on various topics: icons, justification by faith, Tradition, and the Eucharist.


I.  Icons in Worship

Exodus 20:4

Geneva BibleThou shalt make thee no graven image, neither any similitude of things that are in heaven above, neither that are in the earth beneath, nor that are in the waters under the earth.

Note: None.  No comment either for the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5:9.

Orthodox Study BibleYou shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.

Note: “An idol, or image, depicts some god as having a form or shape, but the true God has no form or shape.  Why therefore did Israel use images in their worship?  Because all these foreshadowed the Incarnation of the Son of God, whom we worship both as God and Man.  Also, icons used in Church worship do not depict the divine nature.  They draw attention to the Incarnation.”

Comparison:  One contentious issue between Reformed Christians and the Orthodox has been the Orthodox use of icons (images) in worship.  The bible passage often invoked by the iconoclasts is the Second Commandment; yet it is interesting to find the Geneva Bible silent on this important passage.  The Orthodox Study Bible on the other hand places the Second Commandment in the broader context of Israelite worship versus pagan worship in a way that allows for the use of images without compromising biblical monotheism.


Icon - Crucifixion

Icon – Crucifixion

    II. Justification by Faith

Romans 5:1

Geneva BibleTherefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: . . . .

Note: “Another argument taken from the effects: we are justified with that which truly appeases our conscience before God: and faith in Christ does appease our conscience and not the law, as it was said before, therefore by faith we are justified, and not by the law.”

Orthodox Study BibleTherefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . .

Note: “Faith in Christ makes us justified, an ongoing state of communion with Him (see note at 3:24.  Because of this ongoing communion, we have peace with God which is also ongoing.  The Greek word pistis, here translated as faith, can also be rendered “faithfulness.”  Faith is more than the conviction that something is true (Jam 2:19).  Genuine faithfulness is continuous loyalty and obedience to God.  Such faithfulness justifies a person through God’s grace.”  (Emphasis in original.)

Comparison: Sola fide (justification by faith alone) is the bedrock of the Protestant Reformation.  What is striking about the Geneva Bible’s commentary is the subjective understanding of justification, i.e., bringing peace of mind to a guilty conscience, as opposed to an objective understanding of justification, i.e., repairing one’s relationship with God.  The Orthodox Study Bible takes pain to make two points: (1) faith in Christ is more than intellectual but involves loyalty to Christ and (2) it is an ongoing relationship with God.


Ephesians 2:8-10

Geneva Bible8 For by h grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are i his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Note:   (h) “So then, grace, that is to say, the gift of God, and faith, stand with one another, to which two it is contrary to be saved by ourselves, or by our works. Therefore, what do those mean who would join together things of such contrary natures?  (9) “He specifically and completely takes away from our works the praise of justification, seeing that the good works themselves are the effects of grace in us. (i) “He speaks here of grace, and not of nature: therefore if the works are ever so good, see what they are, and know that they are that way because of grace.”

Orthodox Study BibleFor by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Note:  “How can one get from the one kingdom to the other (vv. 1-7)? By the unity of grace, faith, and works (v. 9). Not that these are equal, for grace is uncreated and infinite, whereas our faith is limited and can grow; good works flow out of authentic faith.  Works cannot earn us this great treasure—it is a pure gift—but those who receive this gift do good.  We are not saved by good works, but for good works (v. 10).”  (Emphasis in original)

Comparison:  Where the Orthodox Study Bible emphasizes the unity of good works with faith and grace, the Geneva Bible emphasizes that good works can only be good because of grace.  In its reaction to medieval Roman Catholicism Protestantism became allergic to the role of good works in salvation.  Orthodoxy was not affected by this legalistic understanding of salvation.  It does not see a tension between good works and salvation in Christ; the two are complementary to the other.  The two marginal commentaries are not opposed to the other but one can sense in the Geneva Bible commentary a defensive tone with respect to good works.


III.  Holy Tradition

I Corinthians 15:3

Geneva BibleFor first of all, I delivered unto you that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,

Note: None.

Orthodox Study BibleFor I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, . . . .

Note: “Paul delivered an apostolic tradition of Christ’s Resurrection which is unchanging and sufficient or salvation (v. 2).  How had Paul received his gospel?  By direct experience with the risen Lord (v. 8), confirmed by his interactions with the original apostles (Gal 2:2-10) and the whole Church.  It is impossible to decipher what he learned where: in Paul’s mind his gospel forms a seamless whole.  “To receive” designates the passing of tradition (see 11:2, 23; Gal 1:9; Php 4:9; 1 Th 2:13; 4:1`).” (Emphasis in original)

Comparison: The Geneva Bible had no comment on this verse.  This gap represents a blind spot in the Protestant tradition.  The Protestant understanding of capital “T” Tradition was likely shaped by the medieval Catholic version which by then had moved quite a bit from its patristic roots.  The evolution of the medieval Catholicism led Protestants to view Tradition as a later addition alien to the New Testament writings.  Eastern Orthodoxy, because it remained closer to its patristic roots, had a more balanced understanding of capital “T” Tradition viewing written and oral Apostolic Tradition as complementary to each other.

When I was a Protestant I would skip over certain words, not being aware of their exegetical or theological significance.  Once I became alert to the language of the traditioning process: ‘deliver,’ ‘pass on,’ ‘received,’ ‘guard,’ my understanding of the biblical basis for Holy Tradition began to shift from the Protestant view to the Orthodox view.  I began to see Tradition as something parallel to Scripture.  See the “Biblical Basis for Holy Tradition.”


2 Thessalonians 2:15

Geneva Bible — Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

Note: “The conclusion: it remains then that we continue in the doctrine which was delivered to us by the mouth and writings of the apostles, through the free good will of God, who comforts us with an invincible hope, and that we also continue in all godliness our whole life long.”

Orthodox Study Bible — Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

Note: “Holy Tradition is that which Jesus taught to the apostles, and which they in turn taught the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in (a) their instructions as they visited the churches and (b) their writings.  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we adhere to Holy Tradition as it is present in the apostles’ writings and as it is resident in the Church to which the truth is promised (Jn 1613).”

Comparison: This is a key passage because it is one of the few places where the Apostle Paul describes the relationship between oral and written tradition. This passage affirms the Orthodox understanding that Apostolic Tradition is expressed in both oral and written forms.  Tradition is not the dead tradition of men but a living Tradition inspired by the Holy Spirit who works in the Church.  The Geneva Bible commentary mostly repeats the text but does not delve into the deeper meaning of the passage.


2 Timothy 2:2

Geneva Bible —  And the things that thou hast heard of me among a many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

Note: “When many were there, who can bear witness of these things.”

Orthodox Study Bible — And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Note: “Paul establishes a clear chain of witnesses to oral tradition.  Christian tradition is for all believers; it is “catholic,” belonging to the whole Church, and needs to be passed down to others unhindered.  This stands in clear contrast to the elitism of the major religions of the first-century Roman world, including gnosticism and the various mystery religions.”

Comparison: This passage lays the biblical basis for apostolic succession.  Timothy was not being ordained to the pastorate of a local church but rather to the office of bishop.  He would be exercising apostolic authority as Paul’s successor.  Timothy’s episcopal authority lay not so much in church ritual as in fidelity to the Apostolic Gospel.  The presence of the many witnesses ensured that the message Timothy proclaimed was same as Paul’s.  When one reads the Geneva commentary for this verse one is struck by the paucity of exegesis.  This lacuna points to another blind spot in Reformed exegesis.


Jude 3

Geneva BibleBeloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the d common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort [you] that ye should e earnestly contend for the faith which was f once delivered unto the saints.

Note(e) “That you should defend the faith with all the strength you can muster, both by true doctrine and good example of life.  (f) Which was once given, that it may never be changed.”

Orthodox Study BibleBeloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Note:  “Jude had intended to write a more general letter on salvation but the danger of false teachers caused him to write a polemic instead.  There is one salvation which is the same for all the elect, or common salvation.  And this salvation is set in apostolic tradition once for all delivered to the saints; it cannot be changed.”

Comparison:  One thing both the Geneva Bible and the Orthodox Study Bible are agreed on is that the Christian faith is fixed, it cannot be changed.  The thinking that the Christian faith was relative or mutable is characteristic of ancient heresies like gnosticism or modern liberalism.   The Gospel is not the result of personal discovery or creative insight but rather received through a line of apostolic succession.


"The Lamb of God is broken and shared, broken but divided; forever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake of Him."

Last Supper Icon

IV.  The Eucharist

Luke 22:20

Geneva BibleLikewise also the cup after supper, saying, This g cup [is] h the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Note(g) “Here is a double use of metonymy: for first, the vessel is taken for that which is contained in the vessel, as the cup is spoken of for the wine which is within the cup. Second, the wine is called the covenant or testament, whereas in reality it is but the sign of the testament, or rather of the blood of Christ by which the testament was made: neither is it a vain sign, although it is not the same as the thing that it represents.”

Orthodox Study BibleLikewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

Note:  “Gave thanks has at its root the Greek word eucharist, which immediately came to refer to both the Liturgy and the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Before the end of the first century, a manuscript called the Didache refers to the celebration of the Liturgy as the “the Eucharist,” and in the year AD 150, St. Justin says of Holy Communion, “This food we call ‘Eucharist,’ of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing [holy baptism] for the forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ commanded us.”  This is my body: The Orthodox Church has always accepted Christ’s words as true, “that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from Him is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus” (Justin).”  (Emphasis in original)

Comparison:  The Geneva Bible seeks to avoid the extremes of the Roman Catholic literal reading of the Words of Institution and the more symbolic understanding.  The word “metonymy” is a literary device where the name of one thing is used as a reference for something else, e.g., “Lend me your ears!”  One finds in the Geneva Bible commentary an ambivalent affirmation of the real presence. The Orthodox Church takes a more straightforward approach by affirming the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist.  The Orthodox Study Bible points to an ancient witness of Justin Martyr who lived in the second century.


John 6:52-53

Geneva BibleThe Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have s no life in you.

Note:  “Flesh cannot make a difference between fleshly eating, which is done by the help of the teeth, and spiritual eating, which consists in faith: and therefore it condemns that which it does not understand: yet nonetheless, the truth must be preached and taught.”

(v. 53) If Christ is present, life is present, but when Christ is absent, then death is present.”

Orthodox Study BibleThe Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”  Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

Note:  “We receive the grace of Christ’s sacrificial offering by coming to Him in faith (v. 35) and by receiving Holy Communion in faith.  In Communion, we truly eat His flesh and drink His blood, and this grants the faithful eternal life (v. 54), with Christ abiding in us and us in Him (v. 56).  ‘There is no room left for any doubt about the reality of His flesh and blood, because we have both the witness of His words and our won faith.  Thus when we eat and drink these elements, we are in Christ and Christ is in us” (HilryP).’”

Comparison:  The Geneva Bible commentary puts the focus on the Christian’s believing in Christ.  The efficacy of the Lord’s Supper resides more in the Christian’s believing than in Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist.  The Orthodox Study Bible’s commentary affirms the importance both of the real presence and our having faith in Christ as the basis of the Eucharist.



Philip teaching the Ethiopian eunuch: Source

Philip teaching the Ethiopian eunuch: Source

In Acts 8 we read of the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the book of Isaiah all on his own with no commentary notes to assist him.  So when Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, he answered: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31)

There are some who believe that we do not need any external aids to understand the Bible that all we need to do is read the Bible carefully and logically and we will discover its true meaning.  But as the experience of many people has shown, not to mention Scripture as well, we need someone to guide us in reading Scripture.


thelology-section-001When one walks into a Christian bookstore one will see a plethora of study bibles: Geneva, Scofield, Ryrie, McArthur or whatever type you might want. Protestants instinctively know (like the Ethiopian eunuch above) they will need help in understanding what the Bible means. This brings to light an embarrassing fact that many Protestants are not ready to acknowledge openly: The words of Scripture by themselves are not enough; something more is needed.  This something more is a faith tradition be it Reformed, Dispensationalist, Charismatic etc.   Even those who make today’s study bibles relied on others before them.


IMG_1880Protestants need to wake up to the fact that their understanding of Scripture is framed by a particular theological tradition.  Certain Scripture passages are highlighted and others are passed over as being of lesser importance.  One striking finding in our comparison is the Geneva Bible’s silence where Orthodoxy and the Reformed tradition diverge significantly, e.g., the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4) and I Corinthians 15:3 which supports the notion of a traditioning process.  These gaps in the Geneva Bible bring to light to blind spots in the Reformed tradition.

The Reformed tradition grounds its reading of Scripture on its supposed superior exegesis; the Orthodox tradition grounds its reading of Scripture on a tradition going back to the Apostles.  It needs to be noted that the Reformed tradition was shaped by its rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church.  This means that its exegetical tradition is not objective, nor grounded in apostolic Tradition, but influenced by its antagonism against Catholicism.

The real question then becomes: Whose particular theological tradition should we follow: one that started in the 1500s or one that can trace its roots back to the first Apostles?  This is the advantage of the Orthodox Study Bible and its commentary that draws on the wisdom of the early church fathers.

Robert Arakaki



I visited two sites for this review.  Studylight.org site is much more user friendly than BibleStudyTools.com site.  Where StudyLight.org presented Scripture passage and commentary in distinct visual units, BibleStudyTools.com listed the commentary directly under the Scripture passage with no intervening space in between.  This dense and compact visual style can be hard on the reader’s eyes after a while.  Despite their shortcomings, the two websites are much easier on the eyes than hard copy the New England Puritans had.  On a recent visit to the Graduate Theological Union library in Berkeley, CA, I checked out a hard copy version, and found myself straining to read the commentary notes which appeared to be in font size 8!


  1. Kiki Ka'akau-Delizo

    Excellent comparison Robert! Your thorough yet concise contextual approach was much appreciated and made comparisons very easy to follow. I’ve used the original Greek and Hebrew translations since I was 13 and LOVE my Orthodox Study Bible which I often take to work with me. Passages passed over in all those years of Bible studies as a Southern Baptist were suddenly obvious and clearly explained, nothing added nor taken away. I couldn’t argue with the evidence and became Orthodox (I was already Orthodox in heart but just didn’t know it).

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I’m glad you found the posting helpful.

      BTW, I found out that there’s something like a pocket sized version of the Orthodox Study Bible. A UC Berkeley student loaned me his copy and I couldn’t believe that it could be so compact and portable.


  2. Cristian-Stavros Metcas

    Robert, I love this series of yours. I recently downloaded an epub format OSB. However, I hope you’ll make a pdf with all the four parts brought together. And I also hope that I will be emailed and receive it attached. Thanks!

  3. David

    Excellent job Robert. One might also note that when it comes to
    serious bible study…the notion of “Sola Scriptura” is quickly
    trumped by the commentaries…of a particular Tradition. The
    exhortation to “just read you bible” is an empty slogan…as the
    45 minute sermon(s) clearly tell us…what the bible means. Phillip
    didn’t tell the Ethiopian eunuch to “just read your bible” any
    more than the resurrected Christ told the men on the road to
    Emmaus to “just read your bibles”. we are left to trust the latest
    whiz-bang exegete, the exegetes of the 1500s…or the Holy Tradition
    handed down by the Apostles themselves to the whole Church.
    What Tradition here really carries the Holy Spirit’s claim upon us?
    Oughta be an easy choice, no? But then life is complicated…and we
    need time to do what we must.

  4. Bayou Huguenot

    Most Protestants post-Van til know that we have presuppositions. We’ve never tried to hide that fact. Maybe some hillbilly pastor in Tarwater, MS believes that we approach via tabula rasa, but a serious perusal of the book reviews in any major theological journal acknowledge that we have presuppositions and traditions. We just don’t make them the ectypal pricincipium cognoscendi.

    • robertar


      Not many people are as well read as you are (how many have read Van Til?), but that doesn’t mean you have to put down the pastor who lives in Tarwater, MS (assuming it’s a real place).

      The main point I made in this blog posting is that when one buys a study bible one is choosing a particular theological tradition. Why should one prefer a study bible that is based on a theological tradition that began in the 1500s (the Geneva Bible) or in the 1800s (the Scofield Bible) when one can get a study bible based on the early church fathers (the Orthodox Study Bible)? As David noted Protestants need to own up to the fact their theological tradition assume it is superior to that of the early Church and that this assumes that the Holy Spirit spoke more clearly the Reformers than to the church fathers.


    • Carson Chittom

      Firstly, speaking as a Mississippian, there’s no such place as Tarwater, MS, that I’m aware of. While, as an Orthodox Christian, I’d certainly be willing to acknowledge and speak to the theological faults of my Protestant and Roman Catholic fellow Mississipians, apparently dismissing the intellectual and theological capacity of three million people formed in the image and likeness of God is hardly fair, to say the least.

      Frankly, I was offended. I ask your forgiveness.

      Secondly, moreover, while I hesitate to assign motives to random people on the internet, it’s certainly possible that some could construe racism out of your use of the construction “Tarwater.”

      Thirdly, if as you say (and as, from my experience growing up as a Southern Baptist, I concur in believing to be true), “[m]ost Protestants . . . have presuppositions and traditions” why would these presuppositions and traditions be superior to those of the apostolic tradition of the Orthodox Church?

  5. David


    Of course a few do. Yet most all still have a disconnect per the place of
    their own Tradition… as one of the first questions an Orthodox convert
    from Protestantism gets is an authoritative appeal to Sola Scriptura.
    Protestant Phds write books about Sola Scriptura, and get glowing reviews
    form across the board, not just Duckbayou, LA! 🙂 Are you claiming that Protestantism no longer espouses Sola Scriptura, in contrast to Scripture
    within Holy Tradition? If so, please let the honest Protestant theologian
    openly and clearly admit to espousing his own ‘Protestant Tradition’ as
    superior to Holy Tradition…rather than hiding behind yet another appeal
    to the abstract & multitude of ‘Sola Scriptura’ interpretations. Also, please
    let the Church know how the Holy Spirit somehow failed to teach the
    Church (thru the Apostles & Fathers/their disciples) unique Protestant
    doctrines of the Sacraments, Liturgy, Solas — but waited 1500 yrs to teach
    them to the Protestant exegetes?

  6. Zechariah Codex

    I posted two comments but they didn’t get through. In essence what I said was that no, I don’t deny sola scriptura. SS simply states that scripture is the principium cognoscendi of theology. This in no way precludes subalternate theological methods (tradition, reason, etc)

    ****Also, please
    let the Church know how the Holy Spirit somehow failed to teach the
    Church (thru the Apostles & Fathers/their disciples) unique Protestant
    doctrines of the Sacraments, Liturgy, Solas — but waited 1500 yrs to teach
    them to the Protestant exegetes?****

    This canard is getting old since neither I nor any respected Reformed theologian actually teaches this.

    • Canadian

      Hope things are well with you.

      Not to misdirect the thread, but you said:
      “we have presuppositions and traditions. We just don’t make them the ectypal pricincipium cognoscendi.”

      It doesn’t save Sola from reducing to Solo when you say your knowlege of God is principally and only infallibly derived from scripture. Those subordinate authorities and subalternate methods carry no real authority to protect and ensure apostolic meaning.

      • Bayou Huguenot

        Do you even know what I mean by principium cognoscendi? You evidenced that with this statement,

        when you say your knowlege of God is principally and only infallibly derived from scripture

        I do not hold that position. I hold to natural theology (of a sort) and natural revelation (and probably natural law). This evidenced by the other distinction: God is principium essendi

        • robertar


          I checked the dashboard for this blog and I did not find the two comments you claimed did not go through. Just to let you know I checked.

          It seems that you are using theological terms that most Protestants and others are not familiar with, e.g., “ectypal pricincipium cognoscendi” and “principium essendi.” To ensure that the comment thread here does not go off on a tangent I suggest you explain on your blog site what the terms mean and how they relate to the Reformed theological tradition.


        • Canadian

          You said you don’t consider tradition to be ectypal, how God conveys the knowlege of himself, but that scripture is. Even if this is both from scripture and nature, the proper understanding of that is required, hence Sola still reduces to Solo. Do you think nature is an infallible source of the knowlege of God?

  7. Dave in Dallas

    The lay protestant views scripture thru the lens of what their pastor teaches for the most part. What their pastor teaches can be quite far from what that particular denomination’s reformation founder(s) espoused. At least that’s been my experience.
    There is also the bible study and other teachers in the denoms as well.
    In practice though Protestantism relies on solo scriptura according to ones own interpretation. This is evidenced by the numerous splits that occur regularly.
    Within a denom I was in some years back one faction read their bible one way and another group another way. Both had well reasoned arguments and scripture to back them up. I didn’t know who to believe or what higher authority to a appeal to — both sides had prominent theologians backing them. When I went back to the early church fathers to try to determine how they viewed a particular set of scriptures my eyes were opened to a new world.
    I’m still protestant while venturing to and from Catholicism a couple years ago. I still pray for clarity and to enter an eastern church someday.

    • robertar

      Dear Dave,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I think you pretty much summed up how many Evangelicals interpret the Bible. I might add that some rely heavily on their favorite radio preachers and attend related conferences that feature these speakers. It’s a pretty rare Evangelical who will dig deeper into a particular teaching developing a more well fleshed out theological system. It’s often those who have a more well developed theology who take strong positions on issues and doctrine.

      It’s interesting you’re moving to and from Roman Catholicism. You might be interested in my blog posting: “Why I did not become Roman Catholic.”

      Please feel welcome to visit this site and take part of the conversation here.


    • David

      Well said Dave,

      Many of us here have a similar history and know you trials well. Hang
      in there and keep reading. There’s no need to rush the working of the
      Holy Spirit. As Robert has many times before, let me encourage you to
      add your physical attendance to a dozen or so Divine Liturgies to get a
      good feel for Orthodox worship. We humans are not intellectual beings
      Only — but flesh and blood with bodies that see, hear, smell and take in
      all creation…as creatures in His Image and likeness. God’s tender mercies
      be with you and my our great Lord have mercy on us all.

      (ps. the archives here at this blog have several dozen excellent articles
      worth at least one slow read!…let me encourage you to read/enjoy them)

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