Sam Jer

Puritan Board Freshman
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV, section IV: Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the Word;a nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man, or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.b The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than of her own.c

a. Lev 18 throughout; Amos 2:7; 1 Cor 5:1. • b. Lev 18:24-28; Mark 6:18. • c. Lev 20:19-21.

Leviticus 20:19–21
19 And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister, nor of thy father’s sister: for he uncovereth his near kin: they shall bear their iniquity. 20 And if a man shall lie with his uncle’s wife, he hath uncovered his uncle’s nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21 And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.
The highlighted section has been removed in many churches who affirm a revised confession.


- Can someone explain the reasoning behind this section, the exegesis of Leviticus 20:19-21 which supports it, and other related passages? How would this view explain levirate marriage and the marriages of Jacob? Which comentators whose commentary is availble online took this view?
- Can someone explain the argument against this view?
- Can someone explain the historical context's of it's inclusion and removal?
 
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV, section IV: Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the Word;a nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man, or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.b The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than of her own.c

a. Lev 18 throughout; Amos 2:7; 1 Cor 5:1. • b. Lev 18:24-28; Mark 6:18. • c. Lev 20:19-21.


The highlighted section has been removed in many churches who affirm a revised confession.


- Can someone explain the reasoning behind this section, the exegesis of Leviticus 20:19-21 which supports it, and other related passages? How would this view explain levirate marriage and the marriages of Jacob? Which comentators whose commentary is availble online took this view?
- Can someone explain the argument against this view?
- Can someone explain the historical context's of it's inclusion and removal?
Jacob was before the law, yet as we can see he was hardly a 'righteous' man in many ways.
Levirate marriages, as far as I am aware, refer to the death of a husband and to ensure his widow is taken care of. The section of Leviticus you cite refers to sexual immorality and the brother is still alive.
 
Can someone explain the reasoning behind this section
Well, a man divorcing a woman and marrying her sister, cousin, mother, or daughter (Woody Allen?) seems to be a really bad idea that doesn't need to be explained. Although I'm showing my age here. I should also include a man divorcing his wife and marrying her brother in the equation these days, shouldn't I.
 
Well, a man divorcing a woman and marrying her sister, cousin, mother, or daughter (Woody Allen?) seems to be a really bad idea that doesn't need to be explained. Although I'm showing my age here. I should also include a man divorcing his wife and marrying her brother in the equation these days, shouldn't I.
My mom had an older sister who divorced a guy many years ago. That guy then married my mom’s youngest sister years later and it obviously fractured the relationship of two sisters of mom. The youngest sister is still living but the older one passed away a couple years ago never having made amends. They lived hours away from me so I only met them a couple times or so. Obviously not at the same time.
 
Well, a man divorcing a woman and marrying her sister, cousin, mother, or daughter (Woody Allen?) seems to be a really bad idea that doesn't need to be explained. Although I'm showing my age here. I should also include a man divorcing his wife and marrying her brother in the equation these days, shouldn't I.
Is the intent of those who wrote and confessed it only talking of a living ex-wife, or also of the late wife of a widower?

Watch out for them spuses. They be spusey sometimes.
Can an admin please correct the title?
 
Is the intent of those who wrote and confessed it only talking of a living ex-wife, or also of the late wife of a widower?


Can an admin please correct the title?
Oh, I could, but where's the fun in that? :pilgrim:

MU HA HA HA HA HA HA
MU HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA
 
I've always found the adherence or non-adherence to this section very curious, myself. There are a couple of historical contexts I've found interesting:

I think it was English law at the time of the Westminster Assembly that a man could not marry a deceased wife's sister. Did that inform this portion of the Confession? Perhaps.

In the American frontier context, it wasn't an uncommon situation for a spouse to die and there not be many other options for remarriage available other than the original family you married into. Did that inform the American revisions? Perhaps.
 
I've always found the adherence or non-adherence to this section very curious, myself. There are a couple of historical contexts I've found interesting:

I think it was English law at the time of the Westminster Assembly that a man could not marry a deceased wife's sister. Did that inform this portion of the Confession? Perhaps.

In the American frontier context, it wasn't an uncommon situation for a spouse to die and there not be many other options for remarriage available other than the original family you married into. Did that inform the American revisions? Perhaps.
But who's right?
 
I've always found the adherence or non-adherence to this section very curious, myself. There are a couple of historical contexts I've found interesting:

I think it was English law at the time of the Westminster Assembly that a man could not marry a deceased wife's sister. Did that inform this portion of the Confession? Perhaps.

In the American frontier context, it wasn't an uncommon situation for a spouse to die and there not be many other options for remarriage available other than the original family you married into. Did that inform the American revisions? Perhaps.
An allusion in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Ruddigore (1887) suggests that marriage to a deceased wife's sister was an ongoing legal debate in England in the late 19th century. It was apparently finally legalized in England in 1907 (there was a deceased brother's widow act in 1921, in part as an attempt to reduce the number of First World War widows dependent upon state support)). Though it apparently still happened earlier in spite of laws against it; provided no one challenged it, it might be allowed to stand.
 
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIV, section IV: Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the Word;a nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man, or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.b The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than of her own.c

a. Lev 18 throughout; Amos 2:7; 1 Cor 5:1. • b. Lev 18:24-28; Mark 6:18. • c. Lev 20:19-21.


The highlighted section has been removed in many churches who affirm a revised confession.


- Can someone explain the reasoning behind this section, the exegesis of Leviticus 20:19-21 which supports it, and other related passages? How would this view explain levirate marriage and the marriages of Jacob? Which comentators whose commentary is availble online took this view?
- Can someone explain the argument against this view?
- Can someone explain the historical context's of it's inclusion and removal?
History intersecting with theology.

Henry VIII and his marriage issues is relevant historical background to spelling out in the WCF confessed (said/agreed together) doctrine concerning marriage.

H8 became convinced that the reason Catherine of Aragon did not produce him a male heir was because the two of them were "in sin," she having been previously married to his brother, who was first in line to the throne before his untimely death. As I recall, because Rome at the time leaned heavily on the Law of Moses for precedent for use in ecclesiastical law, legally H8 could not marry his brother's widow. H8 needed a papal dispensation in order to make a new marriage, and keep political alliances that depended on it viable. This he won, a decision that adds a layer of complexity to the many issues that swirled around the later petition to the pope for an annulment of this same marriage.

Abp Cranmer was H8's appointee, who then supplied the official ecclesiastical justification for the divorce he desired. Cramner (who in spite of his political appointment and tiptoeing was a proto-reformer for doctrine and practice) rested on both the Lev.20 text and the ecclesiastical legal precedent which was Rome's official stance on these questions. So, when it came time for the Westminster Assembly to meet and compose this portion of the church's confession, one important pillar justifying the Reformation in England was H8's role in defying papal claims to supremacy over the church-universal. H8 was no reformer of doctrine, but many of his choices led the Church of England into a practical path ultimately toward Reformation, and away from the Bishop of Rome and those claims of authority.

So, it stands to reason that the not-so-distant past, having echoes reverberating for the last 100yrs, would inform the Assembly.

I think there is better exegesis covering both what Lev.20:19-21 actually means to say, than what the Western Catholic tradition interpreted it to say before the Reformation, as well as the ways H8 tried to leverage it to his personal/political advantage, first one direction then the opposite. Moses still has somewhat to tell us, especially when it comes to defining what sexual immorality is (Act.15:20-21); but the Law must still be read as a covenant document with relevant redemptive-historical context coloring its interpretation. That context helps us with answers to the question of levirate marriage, or whether Jacob would be unjustified (in Mosaic legal terms) for his double marriage, or with legal interpretation that would impact inheritance in the Promised Land.

The fact there are redemptive-historical implications for reading and interpreting these laws is, I believe, a major reason behind doubting/revising the WCF's original statement. Besides, with some additional historic space between us now, and the disruptive nature of 16th C. English politics and international relations then, it is much easier to see that H8 was both providentially placed, and personally driven by many lusts and selfish concerns; yet with a strong interest in obtaining some religious cover for his actions. We feel less obligation to go along with tenuous reasoning from isolated Bible passages, not all which are as plain and relevant as Jesus' own words and the teaching of his Apostles re. marriage and divorce.

There were cases in subsequent (to crafting WCF) history, whether in England or the Colonies (later the USA), in which marriages were challenged as fallen afoul of this (supposed) biblical injunction, and clear Confessional breach. Rather than continuing to confess a controverted interpretation, which had caused some vexation in church courts, this provision was dropped only after the American Civil War (by 1887), much later than earlier revisions undertaken in 1787 at the time of denominational creation. As something no more confessed (said together), one man could interpret the passage in a traditional way (as previously confessed); another could interpret it along the lines of fresh linguistic insight, or within a broader redemptive-historical framework that reduced particular demands of the law (which were more judicial/ceremonial, thus expired or abrogated).

I hope this is helpful. There does exist a monograph, possibly published in WTJ a number of years ago, but I am fairly sure it was a Master's Thesis from WTS-Phil., covering the history of this Confessional revision in the American context, including detailing one or more relevant cases that impacted the decision. That may exist online in some form, and will be more accurate than what I've written above re. revision.
 
Is that Barry Waugh's thesis? I had a copy at one time that he sent me.
I hope this is helpful. There does exist a monograph, possibly published in WTJ a number of years ago, but I am fairly sure it was a Master's Thesis from WTS-Phil., covering the history of this Confessional revision in the American context, including detailing one or more relevant cases that impacted the decision. That may exist online in some form, and will be more accurate than what I've written above re. revision.
 
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland takes exception to this section of the Westminster Confession in its current Testimony:

And also regarding chapter 24, paragraph 4, in the matter of marriage with a deceased wife's sister and deceased husband's brother - in view of the uncertainty amongst students of Scripture as to the true interpretation of the injunctions laid down, no disciplinary action is taken by the Church against those who contract such marriages or ministers who perform them.
 
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland takes exception to this section of the Westminster Confession in its current Testimony:

And also regarding chapter 24, paragraph 4, in the matter of marriage with a deceased wife's sister and deceased husband's brother - in view of the uncertainty amongst students of Scripture as to the true interpretation of the injunctions laid down, no disciplinary action is taken by the Church against those who contract such marriages or ministers who perform them.
Actually, reading this testimony is one of the things that raised the question for me. It's one of only two (!) exceptions they take, and the other might not even count as an exception
 
Actually, reading this testimony is one of the things that raised the question for me. It's one of only two (!) exceptions they take, and the other might not even count as an exception

I do not believe that the first one is an exception only a clarification. This one, however, definitely is an exception. It also raises questions concerning their commitment to the descending obligation of the covenants given that the National Covenant of Scotland (1638) condemns the pope for "his dispensations with solemn oaths, perjuries, and degrees of marriage forbidden in the word;" (emphasis added).
 
I do not believe that the first one is an exception only a clarification. This one, however, definitely is an exception. It also raises questions concerning their commitment to the descending obligation of the covenants given that the National Covenant of Scotland (1638) condemns the pope for "his dispensations with solemn oaths, perjuries, and degrees of marriage forbidden in the word;" (emphasis added).
interesting. Altough it should be noted the RPCI is not actually in Scotland, but on Ireland.

Henry VIII and his marriage issues is relevant historical background to spelling out in the WCF confessed (said/agreed together) doctrine concerning marriage.

H8 became convinced that the reason Catherine of Aragon did not produce him a male heir was because the two of them were "in sin," she having been previously married to his brother, who was first in line to the throne before his untimely death. As I recall, because Rome at the time leaned heavily on the Law of Moses for precedent for use in ecclesiastical law, legally H8 could not marry his brother's widow. H8 needed a papal dispensation in order to make a new marriage, and keep political alliances that depended on it viable. This he won, a decision that adds a layer of complexity to the many issues that swirled around the later petition to the pope for an annulment of this same marriage.

Abp Cranmer was H8's appointee, who then supplied the official ecclesiastical justification for the divorce he desired. Cramner (who in spite of his political appointment and tiptoeing was a proto-reformer for doctrine and practice) rested on both the Lev.20 text and the ecclesiastical legal precedent which was Rome's official stance on these questions. So, when it came time for the Westminster Assembly to meet and compose this portion of the church's confession, one important pillar justifying the Reformation in England was H8's role in defying papal claims to supremacy over the church-universal. H8 was no reformer of doctrine, but many of his choices led the Church of England into a practical path ultimately toward Reformation, and away from the Bishop of Rome and those claims of authority.

So, it stands to reason that the not-so-distant past, having echoes reverberating for the last 100yrs, would inform the Assembly.
Surely, even if this is the underlying reason, they would have a real argument to support their'e view. The question is where I can find a defense of the view they took.
 
I recommend the following for consideration of WCF 24:4 and its Scripture references:
  • John Murray, “Appendix B: Additional Note on Leviticus 18:16, 18”, and "Appendix C. Additional Note on 1 Corinthians 5:1," in Principles of Conduct. Earlier in this book he notes (see last footnote below), “This has been the almost universal belief of the Christian Church in all past ages ..."
  • “Marriage with a Deceased Brother’s Wife, Condemned by the Laws of Nature, Scripture, and the Testimony of Churches and Nations” (1869), Chalmers Izett Paton.
  • See the suggested resource by George Gillespie in the footnote below by Chad Van Dixhoorn.
Here is what I have put together for our inquirers/membership class through the WCF on 24:4:

“‘Consanguinity’ refers to blood relations, and ‘affinity’ to the corresponding relationships among in-laws.”[1] You may not marry closer than first cousins: it is genetically dangerous for child bearing; it is morally wrong according to the Word. Incestuous marriage vows may never be binding. The second part of this section on not marrying the sibling of a deceased spouse is difficult. The RP Testimony rejects it as unscriptural, (at first glance seen as contradicting the Levirate law in Deut. 25:5-10: see also Genesis 38). Van Dixhoorn informs us that “ … the Long Parliament in the 1640s struck out the last line of the fourth paragraph, an action which the Scottish Kirk ignored—indeed, the Church of Scotland ignored all of the revisions to the confession of faith imposed by the English Parliament … in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this final line came to be seen as too restrictive, and so the Americans removed it from their confession.”[2] Nonetheless, along with other conservative Presbyterian churches in America today, we affirm the original preserved by the Scottish Church. John Murray defends the view in his Principles of Conduct.[3] He explains that in Lev. 18:18; 20:14, 17, 21, “The expression ‘take a wife’ indicates that more is involved than an act of sexual intercourse.”[4] Not irrelevantly, he points out that in 1 Cor. 5, the man guilty of fornication not even named among the Gentiles is specifically guilty of affinity, and that the argument being based on Leviticus shows that OT ethics still apply in the NT. He adds: “The Levirate law could well be an exception to meet a certain exigency and is quite compatible with the general provision that a man may not marry his deceased brother’s widow. The latter could be the rule, the Levirate law the exception in the extreme exigency contemplated …”[5] He also notes, “That a widow can be called the wife … of her deceased husband is easily demonstrated (cf. Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5, 7; Ruth 4:5; ii Samuel 12:10; Matthew 22:25; Acts 5:7) … Hebrew has a word for widow …, but it is not Old Testament usage to identify a widow as the widow of such an one. As the above instances show, it is the usage to call her the ‘wife’ … of such an one.”[6] More to the point: “In reference to our precise question … the matter turns on the implications of Leviticus 16:16.[7] There a man is forbidden to marry his deceased brother’s widow.”[8] A.A. Hodge points out that “All branches of the Protestant Church—Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian—have maintained the same principle in their Confessions of Faith or canons of discipline.”[9]

Footnotes:

[1] Wayne R. Spear, Faith of Our Fathers, 127-128.

[2] Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, 329. He also suggests George Gillespie’s, A Treatise of Miscellany Questions, pp. 242-43, for more study on consanguinity and affinity.

[3] Cited by G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes, 184-185, who says the Confession is correct and historically consistent.

[4] John Murray, “The Marriage Ordinance”, in Principles of Conduct, footnote, 49-50.

[5] John Murray, “Appendix B: Additional Note on Leviticus 18:16, 18”, in Principles of Conduct, 250.

[6] Ibid, 251.

[7] This Scripture reference seems to be a typo and should be Leviticus 18:16.

[8] Ibid.

[9] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary, 307. Murray (53) refers to several works showing the classic Protestant stance, including: Calvin’s Commentary: the Four Last Books of Moses, Vol. III, pp 96-108; Kindred and Affinity Impediments to Marriage (London, 1940); and The Canon Law of the Church of England (London, 1947) , pp 126f. “This has been the almost universal belief of the Christian Church in all past ages … The Synod gives public notice to all concerned that the Ministers of the Church shall not be at liberty to perform marriage except in strict conformity with the Confession of Faith, and that Church privileges shall not be extended to any who contract marriage under the license given by the said Deceased Wife’s Sister Act.” Appendix VIII, “Resolutions Relating to Church Privileges, 1. Protest Against the Deceased Wife’s Sister Act”, in The Practice of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 158-159. See also PRPC's sermon on Leviticus 18:6-18, “Protect Your Family in the Lord.”

Also, while preaching through Leviticus, here is my sermon on Leviticus 18:6-18 connecting with 1 Cor. 5:1, "Protect Your Family in the LORD (Laws Regarding Marital and Sexual Incest)": https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=92115058470. I remember one older gentleman (now with the Lord) especially appreciating it afterward saying, "I've never heard a sermon on that before."

As well, here's my sermon that included (in a broader context of the whole chapter) the Lev. 20:19-21 asked about, "Profane Lifestyles Will be Punished (Most Heinous Sins and Their Penalties)": https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=371612524. I only reference "incest" with other sins near the end due to handling the chapter on the whole (and I think having covered it closely in chapter 18). But it may be of interest.
 
While still a Roman Catholic, Henry VIII married the widow of his elder brother Arthur. This was permitted under an indulgence in the Church of Rome under
the theory that the marriage was never consummated.
In the late 1800s, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, the fiancée of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, married Albert Victor’s younger brother, George Frederick Ernest Albert (Prince George, Duke of York) the future King George V, when Albert Victor died of pneumonia.
I asked myself, would this have been covered under the rules concerning levirate marriage in the Church of England? I did not find such a rule in the Anglican Church at the time of the reformation.
The Church of England put a Table of Kindred and Affinity in the Book of Common Prayer because the Church of Rome had prohibited first, second, and third cousin marriages. Cousins had to obtain an indulgence in order to marry. The Church of England wanted to make clear the old rules of the Roman Church were no longer in effect.

Table of Kindred and Affinity wherein whosoever are related are forbidden by the Church of England to marry together

 
Such marriage is a clear violation of the Word of God.

Matthew Henry on Leviticus 18:16:

The relations forbidden are most of them plainly described; and it is generally laid down as a rule that what relations of a man’s own he is bound up from marrying the same relations of his wife he is likewise forbidden to marry, for they two are one. That law which forbids marrying a brother’s wife (v. 16) had an exception peculiar to the Jewish state, that, if a man died without issue, his brother or next of kin should marry the widow, and raise up seed to the deceased (Deu. 25:5), for reasons which held good only in that commonwealth; and therefore now that those reasons have ceased the exception ceases, and the law is in force, that a man must in no case marry his brother’s widow.

Gill on Leviticus 18:16:

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife,.... Neither debauch her nor after the death of the brother marry her, that is, unless he dies without issue; and then, by another law, he was obliged to marry her, Deuteronomy 25:5; hence the Targum of Jonathan adds; by way of explanation."in the life of thy brother, or after his death, if he has children,''but then that law was but an exception from this general rule, and so did not make it void in other respects, but bound it the more strongly; and besides, it was a special and peculiar law to the Jews, until the Messiah came to make it manifest of what tribe and family he came; and the reason of it ceasing, the law itself is ceased, and so neither binding on Jews nor Gentiles: hence John the Baptist boldly told Herod to his face, that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife Matthew 14:3; and even such marriages were condemned by the very Heathens: Dionysius Halicarnassensis (n) relates, that Lucius Tarquinius, Superbus, his brother being removed by poison, took Tullia to wife, whom his brother Aruntus had before married; but the historian calls it , "an unholy marriage", and abominable both among Greeks and Barbarians: Plutarch also reports (o), that Marcus Crassus married the wife of his deceased brother; but such marriages are condemned by the same writer, as they are by the ancient Christians in their councils and canons (p); now by this same law, if it is not lawful for a man to have his brother's wife, then it is not lawful for her to have her sister's husband; or, in other words, if it is not lawful for a woman to marry two brothers, then it is not lawful for a man to marry two sisters: the case of Jacob will not countenance such a marriage, since he was imposed upon and deceived; and such marriages have also been disapproved of by the Heathens and Christians: Honorius the emperor married two daughters of Stilico, one after another, but the unhappy exit of both sisters showed that those marriages were not approved of by God, for they both died premature deaths, leaving no children

Notice the reference to Herod being rebuked for his marriage to his brother's wife.

Gill on Leviticus 20:21:

And if a man shall take his brother's wife,.... To his wife, whether in his life, as the Targum of Jonathan adds, or whether after his death, unless when there is no issue, then he was obliged to it by another law, Deuteronomy 25:5; which is now ceased, and the law in Leviticus 18:16; here referred to, stands clear of all exceptions:

it is an unclean thing; or a "separation" (k) from which a man should remove and keep at a distance, as from menstruous women, of whom this word is used; and so denotes that it is by all means to be avoided, as an abominable and detestable thing; and it is observed that of all copulations it is only used of this: and the Jewish writers, as Aben Ezra and others, observe that this case is somewhat like that of a menstruous woman, who in the time of her separation is unlawful, but when out of it lawful; and so, in this case, a brother's wife might not be taken, he being alive; but after his death she might, if she had no son, according to the law before referred to, but that is now abolished:

he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; his wife's, which was his brother's; which through nearness of kin, he ought not to have done; and the same holds good of a wife's sister, the relation being the same:

they shall be childless; they shall have none by such a marriage or copulation, and die without any; and as this supposes the brother's wife to have children by her first husband, or otherwise while the Jewish law lasted, it would not have been unlawful to marry her husband's brother; the meaning may be, that these should die before them, or rather, as some think, those that might be born of such a marriage should not be reckoned legitimate, and so not inherit.

Clearly, then, levirate marriage was the temporary exception and the prohibition on marrying a deceased sibling's husband/wife is the rule which is still in force. It is clear from Leviticus 18:6-18 that the prohibition on the ground of affinity goes out equally far with that on the ground of consanguinity. This was the almost universal belief of the Christian church in all past ages.
 
Note also the Geneva Bible's note to Deuteronomy 25:5, "Because the Hebrew word signifieth not the natural brother, and the word that signifieth a brother, is taken also for a kinsman: it seemeth that it is not meant that the natural brother should marry his brother’s wife, but some other of the kindred that was in that degree which might marry."
 
Well, a man divorcing a woman and marrying her sister, cousin, mother, or daughter (Woody Allen?) seems to be a really bad idea that doesn't need to be explained. Although I'm showing my age here. I should also include a man divorcing his wife and marrying her brother in the equation these days, shouldn't I.
sadly, probably so.
 
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