In John 16:8-11, we read (emphasis mine):

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

Leaving aside for a second the question of how the phrase "convict the world of guilt" might otherwise be translated, what does it mean for the Spirit here to convict the world in regard to righteousness? And what is the causal connection with Jesus going to the Father?


12 Answers 12


I think the answer can be deduced from the text itself. Here's the first part, itemized for clarity: (NASB)

And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning
    (A) sin and 
    (B) righteousness and 
    (C) judgment

So the Spirit will bring conviction in three general areas. Next, Jesus gets more specific with each of these areas of conviction:

    (A) concerning sin,
        because they do not believe in Me; and
    (B) concerning righteousness,
        because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and
    (C) concerning judgment,
        because the ruler of this world has been judged.

So the result is as follows:

    (A) The Spirit will bring conviction because they do not believe in Me,
        which, in more general terms, is a statement about sin
    (B) The Spirit will bring conviction because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me,
        which, in more general terms, is a statement about righteousness
    (C) The Spirit will bring conviction because the ruler of this world has been judged,
        which, in more general terms, is a statement about judgment

So in summary, the fact that Jesus ascended from this earth and went to the Father is a statement about righteousness, which the Spirit would use to bring conviction to the people of this world.

How was His ascension a statement about righteousness? Because the Righteous One exited the fallen world where He was rejected and murdered. The Righteous One left the world behind. And He was received by the Father into Heaven ...proving His righteousness. This speaks volumes about righteousness in general, and more specifically, about Jesus' righteousness, and the world's unrighteousness. (But I'll save the rest of that explanation for a theology site.)

And the Spirit, when He came, would convict the world concerning righteousness, because the Righteous One left this world behind and was received by God into Heaven. This brings conviction about where righteousness is, where it is not, and what the path to righteousness looks like.

  • This was a tough one to answer without getting theological. Let me know if you want to discuss further, or if there's anything I could clarify here.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 0:46
  • 1
    I do not really understand your last paragraph Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 8:33
  • ((John 16:9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; )-->convict the world on what it's Not right/proper ( i.e atheism, materialistic greed, sexual lust, Nonchristian religion, humanism, etc). (( John 16:10 ) and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;)--->convict the world on what it is Right/Proper( i.e Jesus Christ's Death & Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) ... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, ....) Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 16:13

The Greek scriptures use of the word ‘righteousness’ is greatly revised from the Hebrew usage, for it principally no longer means just an attribute of God, or conforming to God’s law but is a ‘means of salvation’. It is a righteousness ‘from God’ by faith. (Rom 1:17). We must presuppose this 'gospel' definition of righteousness as the previous verse argues that sin = ‘people do not believe in me’. Therefore, the righteousness in this context is the opposite of sin, i.e. the righteousness from God that saves sinners by faith, i.e. ‘people believing in me’.

The question is how does Christ’s resurrection provide proof, or material that the Holy Spirit uses to convince people about this righteousness that saves? The answer is so central to Christianity that we find it in the very introduction of Romans:

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. (NIV, Romans 1:1-3)

Therefore we find that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection and by this declaration we find ‘righteousness’ re-defined and convincingly made known by the Spirit:

17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (NIV, Romans 1:17)

Clearly this is the only convincing exegesis of that ‘righteousness’ which is made known by the Holy Spirit in reference to the resurrection of Jesus. It would be unreasonable to stop at saying Christ's resurrection proved that 'he' was righteous. The word 'righteousness' must be extend under the high priestly imagery of an 'atoning righteousness'. His 'going into heaven' means also that he would present his righteousness to his father on our behalf. Without taking this 'gospel' sense of the word 'righteous' we would deny the Spirits primary purpose, i.e. convincing men of the gospel, by sin and by the free righteousness of Christ for sinners.

This view is commonly held by many excellent commentaries. For example:

Righteousness has come after sin. After the transgression of Adam, and the unnumbered offences of his sons, one Son of Man has entered our world who never transgressed, who always obeyed; and up to His last hour, though tried by fire, His course was the love of righteousness, the hatred of iniquity. It is by this title, ‘THE RIGHTEOUS ONE,’ that our Lord stands distinguished from all other men. So the Holy Ghost witnesses (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1). ‘Ye denied the Holy One, and the Righteous.’ The Spirit would first convince the world of Christ’s own righteousness as the Perfect One, in opposition to the charge of sin brought against Him in His putting to death as an impostor. ‘Certainly this was a Righteous Man.’ The personal righteousness of Christ is established by His resurrection and ascent to God’s throne. But this personal righteousness of Christ would not alone and in itself bring us any salvation. God needs a righteousness for the unrighteous, else how can He pronounce any sinner justified? His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness. That this life of obedience, and its merit are transferable to us, constitutes the Gospel. (Govett, R. Exposition of the Gospel of St. John ,Vol. 2, p. 247)

Due to the simple persuasiveness of the argument when considering the context it is even found as far back as Cyril of Alexandria (~400 A.D.) in commenting on this verse:

Justly then have those been justified who without seeing have believed; but the world has missed the attainment of an equal blessedness, not seeking to obtain the righteousness that is of faith, but deliberately preferring to abide in its own wickedness. (Cyril of Alexandria. Commentary on the Gospel according to S. John (Vol. 2, p. 445). London: Walter Smith.)


This question should belong to the English Language sectio, because it concerns the meaning of the English word "convict".


DL Moody was a man of strong convictions. He was convicted in his youth of the need to do his part for the Gospel.

In contrast,

This is a dangerous place. It is full of people convicted of crimes. There are convicts everywhere.

con•vict (v., adj. kənˈvɪkt; n. ˈkɒn vɪkt) v.t.

  1. to prove or declare guilty of an offense, esp. after a legal trial.
  2. to impress with a sense of guilt. n.
  3. a person proved or declared guilty of an offense.
  4. a person serving a prison sentence. adj.
  5. Archaic. convicted. [1350–1400; Middle English < Latin convictus, past participle of convincere to overcome (in a suit), convict; see convince]


No hermeneutical adventure is complete without reading the source language. I find it baffling when students argue over biblical interpretation based solely on the English word as found in KJV or NIV, veering totally off course from the meaning of the passage.

And the word used is Strong's G1651 elegxei (ελέγξει):
to confute, admonish.
KJV: convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke, reprove.

Apparently, I think,
verb, indicative future active 3rd person singular of G1651 ἐλέγχω elencho, to expose, will be exposing.

For example (using its biblical meaning),

The journalist will expose the scandals of the priesthood, using the exposé to rebuke their improper practices and to refute that they were even fit for their vocations.


1649    ἔλεγξις, εως, ἡ elenxis  rebuke, reproof
1650    ἔλεγχος, ου, ὁ  elenchos     certainty, proof
1651    ἐλέγχω  elencho  to expose; to rebuke, refute, 



uncertain etymology, apparently of ancient Attic dialect.
verify , examine, audit, be in control of, check up on

Modern meaning ...
exercise control on someone or something as competent or proper
to constrain, to place limits

  • will check up on someone to ensure competent performance.
  • will check on machine to ensure proper functioning.
  • to verify quality.
  • to take, or be in, control of situation, person or machine.
  • e.g., to bring a fire or catastrophe under control
  • to discipline and limit someone's excesses.

Related terms:


The word "convict" (elegcho) can also mean "reprove" or "rebuke", as in Rev 3:19, "Those whom I love, I reprove..." It's not too hard to imagine the Spirit rebuking the world concerning righteousness. The "because" is that Jesus himself cannot do so when his body is no longer walking around on the earth.


The cornerstone of the Book of Romans is Romans 1:17, which quotes Habakkuk 2:4 (NASB) -

Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

Righteousness is only through faith. When Jesus said that "you no longer see me" in John 16:10, he was referring to trusting in him by faith. We have never seen Jesus (nor can we see him at the moment), but we trust in him. This faith results in righteousness, which is the crux of the Book of Romans. The Spirit of God convicts us that the only means of righteousness is through faith on Jesus Christ.

Thus we can also understand why the Spirit also convicts the world of sin (John 16:9). This sin not only includes our transgressions against God but also our very state of spiritual death (separation from God). This spiritual death is removed, or washed away, by faith in Jesus Christ, when the believer is "born again." Thus the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, "because they do not believe in me." That is, belief in Jesus removes the condemnation of sin, which is spiritual death.

Last but not least, the reference to the devil for conviction of judgment (John 16:11) is the certitude that in as much as the devil is condemned to eternal fire, so also will be the destiny of those who remain in a state of spiritual death.

The issue is not whether or not you are a good or bad sinner, but whether you have the righteousness of God through faith.


"Sin, righteousness and judgment" refer to the threefold process found throughout the Bible. It is seen typologically in a number of key ways.

Firstly, it is seen in the "three-decker" primeval world: the Garden Sanctuary (Adam), the Land (Abel/Seth), and the World (Noah).

Secondly, it is inherent in the three-decker architecture of the Tabernacle: the Most Holy contained the Laws of Moses (conviction of sin); the Holy Place contained furniture which imaged the blameless nearbringing sacrifice (blood/Table + fire/Lampstand + smoke/Incense altar = righteousness); the Court (blood and water = judgment). This construct is a miniature of the primeval world.

Thirdly, it is seen in the threefold offices of priest, king and prophet, which correspond to the three furnitures in the Holy Place. The priest makes offerings for sin against the Law, the king serves in the light of the Law, and the prophet speaks the Law.

Priest: God's face is against Adam until blameless blood is shed (Showbread).

King: God's face shines upon Adam (Lampstand).

Prophet: As a priest-king, Adam speaks as God's face (Incense Altar).

You might also notice that a priest deals only in judgment upon animal substitutes, a king judges human lawbreakers, but a prophet proclaims the end for entire nations and empires.

In the New Testament, Jesus paid for sin in the Garden, the "firstfruits" apostles proclaimed His righteousness and resurrection to the kings of the Land (leading to AD70 and the avenging of the blood of Abel), and the Church now carries their doctrine to the entire world, leading to the final judgment.

So the threefold process applies to individuals and also to nations. In individuals it is the process of hearing (faith: they do not believe in me); seeing (obedience: I go to my Father) and speaking (legal witness: the satan/prosecutor stands condemned).

Also, the process aligns typologically with Genesis 1:

Priest: Days 1-3 - FORMING (dividing light from darkness, etc.) King: Days 4-6 - FILLING (beginning with the governing lights) Prophet: Day 7 - FUTURE (entering into God's rest)

Jesus, as priest, king and prophet, is the entire creation in human form.

Finally, the causal connection between Jesus going to the Father and righteousness is that after He fulfilled the priestly office of atoning for sin, He ascended to rule as king in righteousness (Revelation 4-5 shows Him ascending as the "firstfruits lamb" and opening the New Covenant scroll - four gospel horsemen ride out into the Land). Notice that His kingdom really begins at Pentecost, where the tongues of fire correspond to the "seeing" of the lampstand. Jesus sat at the Father's right hand, as Joseph was Pharaoh's right hand man, and Daniel was Nebuchadnezzar's right hand man, with "all power."

  • 1
    There are some interesting parallels here, but the whole answer feels like you are starting at the wrong end of the stick -- or like we're being shown the tail end of a whip without getting the perspective of the handle it's attached to. While the parallels are interesting, half of them seem quite tenuous and nothing actually shows how the connections are derived.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 10:25
  • @Caleb I can understand that, but it's a pattern woven throughout all of Scripture. An awareness of structure is not a common thing among modern readers. But keep it in mind as you read the Bible and I believe you will start to see it.
    – Mike Bull
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 11:09
  • Mike, you have clearly thought a great deal about this; your thoughts are intriguing. However, as I read your post I struggled to see a consistency in how you were observing sin, righteousness and judgement in the "types" you set forth. It might help to provide a focused definition of these terms first so you can show how all of the "types" relate directly to them. More importantly though, I perceive the question to be: In what way is the world convicted of righteousness by the Spirit because the Son goes to the Father and the world sees him no more? You made no mention of the Spirit.
    – user2027
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 14:29
  • @Sarah The Spirit is there in the Lampstand and Pentecost. The best thing is to think of the three as a legal process. The entire Bible is built of processes, not of isolated events. Our problem is that we want to define everything in isolation, and in isolation they lose a lot of their meaning.
    – Mike Bull
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 23:52
  • Hi Mike, re this new meta post, I'd be grateful if you give it some consideration and perhaps your vote. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 18:39

"When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin" i.e. a sin. He does NOT convict the populace that it is righteous.

For the second two parts of the phrase, see the Acts 2 message. The only Way to obey the Acts 2:38 command is by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus was crucified. This command was entered into (Paul 'when the commandment entered") law causing the sin of Jesus' crucifixion to to increase. Rom. 5:20 It was the sin of murder to crucify him and unilaterally, for all, it became a sin NOT to give account in regard to the sin (the trespass) of his crucifixion. Hense to be declared righteous by God it is by the faith of confessing to that sin or commit another sin that is not forgivable

  • According to the text of Jn. 16:8, which is a direct quote of God by the way, tampering with what his direct statements mean is a capital offense. Putting him to the test turns out to be an extremely hot idea for those who do so. There is no stated purpose of God to convict the world's populace that it is righteous. Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 21:31


Shortly before His arrest, Jesus told His disciples that there would be three things the coming Holy Spirit would convict the world of—sin, righteousness and judgment:

John 16:8 And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the WORLD of SIN, and of RIGHTEOUSNESS, and of JUDGMENT:

These three convictions by the Spirit are meant for the world. They are not meant for believers of Christ, because Jesus separated the two groups when He told the Father in the following chapter that His disciples “are in the world” but “not of the world” (John 17:11, 14). Since those who believe in Him are not of the world, then these three Spirit convictions cannot be for them.

Now, why would the Holy Spirit convict the world (or non-believers) of sin, righteousness and judgment?

To “convict” means to reprove or admonish. The original Greek word used here is “elengchoo.” It’s a negative word that means, “to convict, refute, confute, generally with a suggestion of the shame of the person convicted…to find fault with, correct…reprehend severely, chide, admonish, reprove…to chasten, punish” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). So why would the Holy Spirit do all this to non-believers in the three areas of sin, righteousness and judgment, such that they feel some sense of shame for each conviction?

The answer lies in what Jesus told His disciples just before He spoke of the coming Holy Spirit and His convictions:

John 16:2–3, 7–8 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me…Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

The disciples would soon face much persecution for their faith in Christ. They would be thrown out of the synagogues and some of them would even be killed by religious zealots crazy enough to think they were helping God.

Because of this impending persecution, Jesus told them, “Look guys, it’s better I go away so that the Helper can come. When He comes, He will help you by convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.”

The disciples needed supernatural help to carry on the ministry of Jesus, or the Great Commission. And help was coming to them in the person of the Holy Spirit, aptly named, the “Helper.” And He would help them, as they preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, by convicting their non-believing hearers of sin, righteousness and judgment.

How so?

  1. Of SIN, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9):

As the disciples preached how Jesus is the Messiah and how one needs to believe in Him to be saved, the Holy Spirit would help them by convicting the hearts of their hearers, telling these unbelievers that refusing to believe in Jesus is a grave sin for which there is no forgiveness, since they would be rejecting the one-and-only final sacrifice for sin that God accepts.

  1. Of RIGHTEOUSNESS, “because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (John 16:10):

As the disciples preached how righteousness comes by faith and not by works (obeying the Law of Moses), the Holy Spirit would again help them. He would convict the hearts of their hearers, telling these unbelievers that the only righteousness that God accepts is the righteousness of the One who came from the Father, and who was able to return to the Father because He had successfully finished the job He was sent to do. A righteousness from above was required, and this righteousness is a gift that must be received by faith, not works.

  1. Of JUDGMENT, “because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:11).

Finally, as the disciples preached about God’s holy judgment against sin and unrighteousness or self-righteousness, the Holy Spirit would once more help them. He would convict the hearts of their hearers, telling these unbelievers that there will certainly be divine judgment for the world, since the devil himself could not escape God’s judgment.

Friend, that’s how the Helper helps us even today, as we preach the gospel in and to an unbelieving and sometimes hostile world. We may speak with eloquence, passion, boldness and even wisdom, but ultimately, we still need the help of the Holy Spirit. Only He can convict the hearts of our unbelieving hearers with regard to sin, righteousness and judgment, and bring about revelation, repentance and salvation!


Sin and Righteousness and Judgment

Learn how the knowledge of good and evil manifested sin. I didn't understand till I learned that knowledge meant discernment, that good meant function, an evil meant error. The discernment of function and error.

The condemnation for Righteousness

Indeed we are to be righteous, therefore it takes some contemplation to understand how even the righteous can receive condemnation. For even Jesus in his righteousness, and who can be more right then him? Still received condemnation.

Understanding Function

Both McDonald's and Burger King make hamburgers. What's the result of the function? A Hamburger.

They both make hamburgers, yet they also use different functionality, to accomplish the task. For example if a McDonald's employee did go into a Burger King and attempt to make the hamburger the exact same way McDonald's does this employee will experience (Let's hear the trumpet folks) Error.

Does this mean that the McDonald's employee sinned? No.

However once experiencing this that employee stands in danger of sinning.

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7 NKJV)

Access to Sin

Learning from the previous verse that "sin lies at the door" "if you do not do well". Therefore logically righteousness gets the most obvious vote, to prevent sin. As it was also stated, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?"

The Knowledge of Functionality

Step 1 then Step 2 Then Step 3. This pattern we could call a function, and in computer programming we make use of functions to "accomplish a task". Functionality gets used in many places, for example: a music event at the school. This song gets sung, then this song, and then this song. Functionality.

Following the Rules

The concept of righteousness goes hand and hand with the concept of following the rules. In fact its through rules that the society defines functionality.

But our McDonald's employee followed the rules!

Yes he followed "McDonald's Rules" yet found error when applying these rules to the "Burger King Way". Yes our buddy was indeed righteous from one perspective, but wrong from another.

The Importance of Perspective applied to Functionality

Now lets take one sentence as learn some truth from it. The sentence, "I am sitting". If then the person actively sits when saying this this gets perceived as "truth". Yet if the person actively stands when saying this this gets perceived as a "lie". It's the same sentence. Yet in one perspective its true, and in another its a lie.

Discernment and Knowledge

In one perspective these two words have the same expression. And also in the same manner, we can look at these two words and see the difference of the expression. For example I could "discern" that two objects looked different, however I might not have the knowledge of the objects themselves. From the ability to discern we then (in one perspective) have the knowledge about the difference.

Lets compare the discernment of functionality to the knowledge of functionality. Discernment says I can tell there's different, knowledge says I understand how to do this function. Therefore from either perspective its both the discernment of functionality and also the knowledge of functionality that started sin. Yet we go to learn something when looking at it from the perspective of discernment.

The condemnation of Judgment

Jesus plainly states:

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matthew 7:1 NKJV)

He is looking at this from the perspective of "applied functionality". If a person does error, meaning that the action did not compare to that of the presented functionality. Then there's condemnation or grace.

Why does the prince stand condemned?

The position of a ruler does two things (from a certain perspective). One to define functionality, and the other the enforce functionality.

How can a prince abandon his functionality for the presented functionality of a friend? How can he lay down what he wants to do, to do it his friends way?

Jesus goes to the Father

Now here (a simple logic from one perspective) if in the beginning God did not want Adam to discern functionality. Which leads to defining functionality, which leads to enforcing functionality, which leads to rebellion against functionality, which leads to discord, and or war.

When Jesus goes to the Father, (who does not have the Son discern functionality), he stands righteous above all!

For if a man has no rules to follow, then that man breaks no rules. And righteousness by definition means the not breaking of rules.

What reason then should we have rules, but to prevent to the self danger and that of loved ones. Yet if all would do to others as they would have it done to them self there would be no need for any other rule.

Therefore woe to those that wright rules, and even more woe to those that demand others follow a certain functionality.

  • I had a hard time following your logic Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 8:40

The Holy Spirit proves to unbelievers that their ideas about righteousness are wrong (see NIV 2011 translation of John 16:8). “Because they were ignorant of God’s righteousness and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:3). And as the Spirit proves unbelievers to be wrong, he simultaneously shows them the truth about righteousness.

Concerning the Messiah, “we considered him to be punished by God” (Isaiah 53:4) for his own sins, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead (see Romans 1:4 and 1 Timothy 3:16).

And as Jesus was saved from death and vindicated (justified) by his resurrection, so we too, in him, are saved from death, and justified, through our being united with him in his resurrection (Romans 4:25, Romans 5:10 and Romans 6:8). We become partakers of his righteousness by being united to Christ by believing in(to) him. "For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)

  • 1
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    – agarza
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 15:36

((John 16:9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; ) -->convict the world on what it's Not right/proper ( i.e atheism, materialistic greed, sexual lust, Nonchristian religion, humanism, etc).

(( John 16:10 ) and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;) --->convict the world on what it is Right/Proper( i.e Jesus Christ's Death & Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) ... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, ....))


conviction means acknowledging ones own innate spiritual bankruptcy and sin. convict here means bringing about acknowledgement of the truth. and that is that righteousness has nothing to do with sin or with rules or laws. it has to do with a refusal to judge, a refusal to take up the position of God and condemn others. it refers to an innate love for humanity...the central sin of humanity, the original sin perpetrated by adam and eve was to seek knowledge of good and evil, when humans have not the capacity to judge such things. its also related to pride. Christ condemns the prideful. He calls us to be "poor in spirit" and humble. this is the conviction of which he speaks. and no one will move my mind to other belief on the matter.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other SEs. Our community looks for answers to reflect a good degree of research and references. Typically, we like answers that cite scholarly references and/or explain how your interpretation arises from the text. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 19:33

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