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How do you reconcile

 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, ... (Rom. 4:2–5, ESV)

with

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29, ESV)

Is believing a work, or not a work?

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  • It would be a good idea to add to it, whether "work of God" genitive is of subjective or objective? Since most answers are quickly jumping to turn the godly works into God's own actions, as it is the new fashion to translate & interpret every genitive in the NT, including faith of Christ, etc. as subjective, eliminating the whole role of man who is a puppet, to rid the necessity of obedience/works altogether. ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/classify-genitive.htm
    – Michael16
    Nov 8 '21 at 11:28
  • @Michael16, good point. I try to address this (without actually using terms such as genitive of subjective or objective) in my answer below: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/71463/25589
    – Austin
    Nov 26 '21 at 20:19
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JOHN 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Note - the work is a ‘work’ that God does - not man. This is not something you do.

All throughout history, mankind has been seeking what they must do to do the works of God. All people have a knowledge within them of the reality of God (Romans 1:18-20) and a desire to be right with Him. However, just as with these Jews, few agree with the Lord as to how to do it. These Jews were willing to do something to obtain salvation, but they were not willing to commit themselves to Jesus and accept His gift.

The passage from Romans 4 regarding Abraham is about righteousness. It is saying that Abraham’s righteousness, which came through his belief in his God, was reflected in his obeying God (aka ‘works’, what he [ended up] doing).

So ‘believing’ is not a work. Rather, work is a consequence (results out from) believing.

Our own good works will only allow us to boast if we’re comparing ourselves with other people (2 Corinthians 10:12).

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How do you reconcile Rom. 4:2-5 with John 6:28-29: believing a work or not a work?

In order to answer this question, I would like to clarify the original wording within both scriptures. The original Greek uses the root word πιστεύω (pisteuó Strong's G4100) which is most often translated as faith.

Some scripture that helps to understand these verses is James 2:17:

So, too, faith by itself, without works, is dead.

While this scripture has caused debates, my intention is to use it to understand the correlation between faith and works.

Faith is what saves us, but works is how we manifest that faith. Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-20 that by a person's "fruits", illustratively their works, we can know what is in the person's heart.

So Abraham, by his obeying Jehovah God's commandments, going to a land not his, sacrificing his son, etc., he manifested faith in Jehovah.

Likewise, we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our means of salvation by following the counsel found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), making disciples (Matthew 28:19, 20), etc.

Belief, or faith, itself is not a work. But our works do prove our belief, or faith.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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    @Malady Thank you for catching what Grammarly apparently could not.
    – agarza
    Nov 3 '21 at 3:34
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John 6:

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works [plural] of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work [τὸ ἔργον] of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Believing is the singular unique kind of work for justification. No other kind of works can justify anyone onto eternal salvation. Jesus used (defined) the word "work" here in a special and unique sense. No money was involved in this kind of work.

On the other hand, we have Paul's writing, Rom. 4:

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about,

Works, in general, cannot justify anyone unto salvation.

but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

"works" here is a verb, not a noun as in John 6. Working, in general, cannot justify anyone unto salvation either, because by working in general, you receive obligated wages. Money is involved.

5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

Again, Paul was not using the word "work" in the special sense defined in John 6:29.

How do you reconcile Rom. 4:2-5 with John 6:28-29: believing a work or not a work?

Excellent question. Believing is a work of the unique kind according to Jesus. Believing is not a work according to Paul because he was not using it in the special unique sense. Basically, Jesus was saying that there was only one kind of work that justifies and Paul was saying that no works can justify. This is a matter of definition. Jesus made an exception and Paul didn't. It seems that John's gospel was written after Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans.

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  • Hi Tony, I commend you for affirming Jesus's words that belief is a work that we do. James seemed to think that works other than simple belief could justify a faithful believer. "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." -James 2:24. In my answer, I try to explain how this position is consistent with what Paul wrote in Romans 4:2-5.
    – Austin
    Nov 27 '21 at 8:04
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One of the difficulties with this much asked question is the habit of English versions to translate πιστεύω and its cognates as "faith" - an old English word that was a good translation 500 years ago but does not have the full import of πιστεύω.

Many of the problems surrounding this word would vanish if we translated this word as "trust" (as per BDAG) because "trust" and "trusting" is other-focused.

  • Rom 4: 2 If Abraham was indeed justified by works, he had something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now the wages of the worker are not credited as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work, but trusts in Him who justifies the wicked, his trust is credited as righteousness.
  • John 6: 28 Then they inquired, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus replied, “The work of God is this: to trust in the One He has sent.”

That is, we must trust God to fulfill His promise to love and save us. This may not be accompanied by any inner glow but we trust the one who is trustworthy, even if we do not understand. Let me list my translation of Rom 3:20-26:

20 Therefore no one will be justified in His sight by works of the law. For the law merely brings awareness of sin.

21 But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, as attested by the Law and the Prophets. 22 And this righteousness from God comes through faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who trust. There is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

25 God presented Him as the atoning sacrifice through trust in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. 26 He did this to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and to justify the one who has faith/trust of Jesus.

APPENDIX - Faith of/in Jesus

The centrality of faith, or better, trust, in the Christian’s life is best illustrated by examining the use of the phrase “faith of Jesus” which occurs five times. Rom 3:22, 26, Gal 2:16, 3:22, Rev 14:12. In all cases the Greek “pistis Iesou” (note the genitive) can be translated either as:

  • “Faith/trust in Jesus” meaning the trust we have in Jesus to save us because we cannot do it ourselves. That is, we allow Him to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves.

  • “Faithfulness/trustworthiness of Jesus” (more literally correct) meaning the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Jesus Himself that He exercised on our behalf to save us; and that we imitate in order to receive the merits and benefits of Jesus. See especially 2 Tim 2:13.

In my judgement it is not necessary to decide between these two as both are intended. That is, we trust Jesus to be trustworthy. There is a similar situation with “Faith of God” in Mark 11:22, Rom 3:3.

The New Testament also contains the phrase “faith/trust in Jesus” (“pistis en Iesous”) and in all cases the phrase is used as the basis for the Christian life and/or a cause for celebration and note by others. Gal 3:26, Eph 1:15, Col 1:4, 1 Tim 1:14, 3:13, 2 Tim 1:13, 3:15, Heb 11:6.

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When Jesus was told by the centurion that it was not needful for Him to visit the centurion's home, and the reason why, Jesus proclaimed that He had not seen faith like this in all of Israel.

Faith is more than simply dropping any objections to an idea, or to have the words which represent the idea in one's thoughts; it means to take the idea and apply it to every sphere of conduct where it is relevant. This is what the centurion had done.

The appearance of a conflict between the passages that tell us we are saved by faith, and the passages that teach that the unrepentant and disobedient are not saved, is resolved by James when he said that "faith without works is dead." The Scriptures do not teach that the faithful but disobedient person is either saved or lost; it instead denies that such a person even exists.

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  • How about King Saul? 1 Samuel 15. He claimed to be faithful, and yet had disobeyed a very clear commandment.
    – EvilSnack
    Nov 25 '21 at 4:27
  • big difference between Jesus declaring you faithful and you calling yourself faithful. A big difference between Jesus calling the centurion faithful and Saul calling himself faithful. Clearly, Saul was not. You won't be saved just because you say "Lord, Lord." Matthew 7:21 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    – Austin
    Dec 18 '21 at 17:46
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This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Is believing a work, or not a work?

Even believing God is a gift of faith from Him. It's Gods work from start to finish.

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph. 2:8

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Is believing a work, or not a work?

Well, according to Jesus, belief is a work.

28 Then they said to him,
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
-John 6:28-29

It may be tempting to try to reconcile this verse by declaring that belief is a work that God does and not work from God required for us to do, however, that's not really sustainable given the context. The crowd asks "what must we do to be doing the works of God?" And not "what must God do for God to be doing his own work?" Jesus actually answers their question directly. The work of God that they must do is to believe in the one whom God has sent. Here "belief" is a "work" as described by Jesus.

How do you reconcile Rom. 4:2-5 with John 6:28-29?

Short Answer:

It seems that in order to spot the contradiction between Romans 4 and John 6, the OP read Romans 4:2-5 the following way:

Romans 4:2-5 2 For if Abraham was justified by works [at all], he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works [at all], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work [at all] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Instead, the passage should be read along the lines as follows to maintain internal and external scriptural consistency:

Romans 4:2-5 2 For if Abraham was justified by [all legally required] works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works [all that is required by contract/law], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work [all that is required by law] but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

This interpretation is required to have a meaning consistent with the surrounding context found in Romans and in the storyline of the examples used of Abraham and David who certainly did great works before God but could never perfectly fulfill all the legal terms of God's law contracted with Abraham and his descendants and with humanity at large. When understood this way, there is no conflict with there being some work required to gain access to all the righteousness of Jesus Christ who actually did all the legally required work that no one else could do. There is no conflict with God requiring some work that we do, to access the grace that covers us for all the work we don't do.

The Long Answer on How to Interpret of Romans 4:2-5:

Let's begin with acquainting ourselves a bit with the context within which this discussion of works and belief occurs.

The first time that Paul explicitly addresses works and justification is in the immediately prior chapter:

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. -Romans 3:20

Contextually we see that Paul is not talking about works in general, but specifically about works of the law. And, contextually, when he is describing the law, he is referring to the old testament law / terms of the covenant:

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. -Romans 3:28-30

You see the major friction point that Paul was trying to address was the conflict between Jew and Gentile and for Paul the major dividing line was the set of legal requirements of the Jewish law exemplified most notably with regard to the issue of circumcision.

11 Therefore remember... you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision... 13 ...have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace... -Ephesians 2:11-15

The issue of the Law and circumcision is such a huge issue it spans at least 4 books of the New Testament (Galatians, Romans, Acts, and Ephesians). It seems that the problem with the unbelieving Jews is that they no longer had faith in God but their faith was in the works of the law. This became obvious for when the Word of God came to transition them from the old covenant to the new they kept the old covenant and rejected the Word of God.

It's important to understand that Paul is talking about the old testament law to understand the smooth transition between Chapter 3 and Chapter 4:

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? -Romans 3:31-4:1

What may seem like an abrupt introduction of a new subject is actually a continuation of Paul's discussion of upholding the Law. Here, when referring to the law, Paul is referring to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament in its entirety. He transitions to Abraham because his story is a perfect foil to the works of the law ideology since his subversive story is both revered by the Jews and is contained within the Law itself. The Jews were focused on the law of Moses, but Paul wanted them to look not just at the law of Moses, but the entire Law, the Torah. The law of Moses is only one part of this greater law collection. He is not talking about the law in general and works in general, but the Old Testament law and the works required by it.

With the preliminary context out of the way we are in a better position to understand the verses in question:

Romans 4:2-5 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Here Paul switches from talking about the "works of the law" to just talking about "works", however, when he refers simply to "works" he is still actually talking about the "works of the law" or the works legally required by the covenant contract. He continues to use "works" as a shorthand for works of the law. We can see this by focusing for a moment on verse 5 where it says "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness":

Now the idea that Abraham had done no work at all prior to scripture stating, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”, is not sustained by the scriptures. Such an idea might be sustainable if the phrase "“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” occurred when God first made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go [literally a command to walk] from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

But the phrase, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” did not occur in Gen 12:1-3 when Abraham first believed God. But in Genesis 15:6 well after the events in Genesis 12 where Abraham walked over 500 miles simply because God told him to.

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. -Genesis 12:4

Abraham's Journey To The Promise Land in Genesis 12

In fact, if Abraham had not obeyed God, as he did in Genesis 12 walking over 500 miles to get to the promised land, it is hard to imagine that Genesis 15 would have ever taken place. This literal walk, by Abraham, is specifically referred to by Paul when relating to our spiritual walk of faith.

11 ...The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. -Romans 4:11-12

For Paul, being a child of Abraham requires humans to take obedient actions (footsteps) in accordance with their faith. Indeed Paul saw the purpose of his apostleship was to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations:

Romans 1:5 5 ...we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

Far from involving no human effort whatsoever, for Paul, sincere faith involves obedient work just as the author James discussed:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him...? 17 ...faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead... 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. -James 2:14-26

So, Back to Romans 4:3, when Paul says "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" he cannot mean that Abraham took no active work at all in the manifestation of his belief. . Instead it means something else which we can infer from the following verses.

5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”Romans 4:5-8

Here we see that the idea of work is still scoped to the works of the Law. In this context to have righteousness counted to you apart from works is to have your lawless deeds forgiven. The concept of 'not working' is equated to the concept of committing lawless deeds and sin. In other words to not work means to fall short of God's law. If you fall short in any area of the law, you fall short of the whole law and you did not complete the work of the Law. No matter how much you did you did not do the work required. 'Not working' the way Paul is using it, doesn't mean that you do no works at all, but that you do not complete all of the righteous requirements of the law in its entirety.

We can see how the concept of righteousness apart from works means righteousness apart from completing or fullfilling the works of the law. This becomes more clear as we apply Paul and David's words to David's own life. In doing so, let us consider how the scriptures describes David:

David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

When David writes the words Paul describes as demonstrating righteousness apart from works, it is not the case that David was carrying out no work on behalf of God. In fact, David was very careful to carry out the commands of God except when he didn't. So again, having righteousness counted to you apart from works does not mean you do no work at all. It just means you do not do all the work equal to the righteousness counted to you.

The term, "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness", when applied to David cannot mean that David did no work for God, but that righteousness was counted to David beyond the work that he did to include the work that he did not do. David, fell short of all the work required by law and so did not fulfill or complete the works of the law and yet he was credited as righteous because of the grace of God and his obedient faith.

Conclusion

So now, paying attention to the context we see nothing is meant by Paul that is anything like a person is justified if they do absolutely no work or with no work involved. Such a position is not sustainable when we actually examine the two examples of the men Paul uses to illustrate what he's getting at. Therefore, there is no contradiction between belief being a work in John 6 and, in Romans 4, faith being credited to Abraham as righteousness without works, once we understand that what Paul means is that righteousness was credited to Abraham without doing all the required works of the law. Righteousness is credited to us beyond the work that we have actually done to include, by grace through faith, all the works covenantly required by God that only Christ could completely fulfill.

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Although many good answers have been given, it was difficult to chose a best answer. The multiple answers are not mutually exclusive. One answer does not exclude the other. So, consider the following.

John 6:28-29

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ESV)

Considering the context of Jesus' "I am the Bread of Life" discourse, Jesus twisted around the question addressed to him. "Works of God" in the question meant works people are to do for God. However, Jesus turned it with "work of God" to mean what God did, or at that time what God would do provide for our believing to accomplish God's provision. In particular look at:

 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51–58, ESV)

In stead of the people providing and animal sacrifice for atonement, God provided the sacrifice of atonement in Jesus' sacrificial death. See What does John 6: 57 mean?

Romans 4:2-5

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, ... (ESV)

Key to what Paul meant by works is "his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due." Breathing is an action, but not one that an employer pays wages for. One may look at believing as an action, but not one that earns wages. Works that earn wages are works employers hire employees to do. So, what does Paul mean by works?

One aspect is works of the law.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom. 3:27–28, ESV)

While Paul primarily meant the Law of Moses as law, it also means Jesus' commandments. See Why does John emphasize the keeping of the commandments in his letters?
While keeping Jesus' commandments demonstrate a saving, fully persuaded, faith, it is not those works that save us. It is depending on Jesus' atoning sacrifice that saves us.

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    Hi Perry, my minority view may not be appreciated but i would say that you are taking the less likely reading of Jesus' answer, i.e. that he didn't really answer their question. As for Paul, we are not justified by the work of faith in God. Faith is an action from the heart that enables God to justify us. No works without faith will save us. It is very difficult to read Jesus and come to any other conclusion than no faith without works will save us. James said, " I will show you faith by my works." Is there any other way to show it? Nov 8 '21 at 7:49
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Jesus made it clear that to serve him is to do good works to our fellow man. (Mat 25:31-46)

The wrong kind of works; the kinds that didn’t create righteousness was the kind of works that the Pharisees were involved with, such as animal sacrifice, rigid sabbath observance and stoning (Heb 9:13,14; John 9:16; John 8:7).

Thus, to believe in God is to do works that leads to life. In contrast to works that leads to death (Heb 6:1; Jam 2:20). The former are perfect works of the spirit, while the latter are imperfect works of the flesh.

Abraham showed that he had a charitable spirit by cordially entertaining angels, as well as begging God to save as many as he possibly could of the poor souls in Sodom and Gomorrah.

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