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The standard reading of John 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

is that the beginning - ἀρχῇ (archē) - refers to the old beginning, i.e., the beginning described in Genesis 1. The word is repeated at 1:2.

However, John's prologue is condensed and poetic language. This motivates an inquiry into how John uses key words, such as 'beginning', in the rest of his Gospel outside of the prologue, to better inform our reading of the prologue itself.

How is 'beginning' (archē) used throughout the Gospel of John, not only the prologue? Beginning as in 'arche' only occurs 6 times outside of Chapter 1. Does it usually refer to the Genesis beginning? Does it usually refer to a beginning (or beginnings) associated with the life and ministry of Jesus?

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    If your question is making the erroneous misapplication of language to somehow claim that the word beginning is always referring to the same event every time the word is used irrespective of context, then I’m voting to close this question because that’s not how language works. And you’re supposed to ask separate questions for each verse you are inquiring about. Your edit has made the question even more confusing. Please clarify Aug 16, 2022 at 4:17
  • @NihilSineDeo I have clarified the question per your request. If you still find it unclear, please feel free to mention the specific sentence. To me it's obvious that a word like 'beginning' doesn't need to have the same referent in every instance of usage. Aug 16, 2022 at 16:13
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Aug 16, 2022 at 23:52
  • By my count the word ἀρχῇ occurs 8 times in John, which is a reasonable scope for a word study question, so I've reopened this question. I don't think it's very likely to be a very useful question, but we don't close questions because of that, and I may be surprised when I see what the answers bring up!
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 17, 2022 at 12:35
  • @curiousdannii So, now the question has shifted to a "Biblical theology of ἀρχή (archē) in the Gospel of John", which is certainly on topic because it is about a single author's use of a word throughout a single work. But, it must include all occurrences. The question must also show some "research effort", so I'll edit accordingly.
    – Jesse
    Aug 17, 2022 at 13:55

8 Answers 8

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The answer to the question non contextually is, the same word beginning or the first or at the start αρχη is used identically in the rest of John’s account of the gospel.

Which beginning does this refer to? It refers to the beginning of Creation, that beginning. So we now have a time stamp. (If it’s not obvious enough that it’s referring to the very beginning consult v3 that says ALL, with the exclusion of nothing. That is the beginning as per Genesis 1:1, prior to it was no heaven, no earth, no heavenly beings because there was no heaven to exist in, only God who is uncreated and without beginning)

So therefore at the beginning of Creation there was God and there was God the Word

He the Word was with God at that very beginning v2

Now to add OT context to what John was describing. John is saying that this Word has a beginning, but being the Word is God, God is without beginning. Therefore this Word is God in a new form

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭

And again

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:24‬ ‭

He had a glory which He no longer has in the aftermath of His begetting

All things were made by the Word, therefore nothing existed prior to the Word in the natural and supernatural world (God being outside of His own Creation and God the Word now about to make Creation)

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” ‭‭John‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭

All things were made through Him the Word, meaning it HAS to be speaking about day one of Creation, there was no heaven or earth prior to day one (circa 4930 earlier)

The Word was begotten, but when?

“but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:2‬ ‭

The Son had to have been begotten prior to the creation otherwise it would not have been created through Him.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭

He in the form that He took as the Word, the Son, the one through whom all things were Created, the image/imager/representative of God, the Angel of the Lord, one with less glory after the begetting, the archon or the first of all Creation, in this form He remained fully God but took on a lower position by identifying with Creation at the Beginning and being it’s Creator, interacting with His Creation,

And He went one step even further and humbled Himself by becoming a human, going from the supernatural heavenly body of the Angel of the Lord, the Visible God of the OT, into the biological machinery called the human body.

Yes in the beginning being at the first or the first occurrence or the beginning in English. And John makes it ABUNDANTLY clear that the Word WAS GOD even at the beginning.

In the English people argue that the World (meaning the cosmos/universe) was not made by Him but through δι Him, in other words He wasn’t the agent of Creation just the medium, but in the Greek the word δι needs to be understood even if you want to translate it through, that at the source HE is the Creator

Colossians 1:16 says that by εν Him were all things made and through δι Him and that they were made for εις Him.

The Earth is His, made for Him and the Earth belongs to the Lord

“The earth is the Lord’s יהוה and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭24:1‬ ‭

Yes it the word beginning refers to the very first second of time and thereafter, Yes the Word was there at that beginning and Yes the Word was God

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    The Correct Answer! Profound Dec 19, 2022 at 9:35
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Personally I don't see anything "ambiguous" at all from John 1:1 and from the immediate context of the verses that follow.

What I do find "ambiguous" is the verses you quoted to justify this "new beginning" business. For instance, John 2:1-11 is teaching the first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine. This demonstrates His divinity to His disciples. How does this miracle prove some sort of "new beginning?"

John 6:64. "Jesus knew" speaks once again of His divine knowledge of all men. What He knew was that some of them did not believe.

John 8:25. The Jews ask Jesus who He is? What have I told you from the beginning. I have told you since the beginning of my earthy ministry.

John 15:27 is basically saying, "As My disciples you also can corroborated what I've done since the start of my earthly ministry. John 16:4 "echos" John 15:27. In other words Jesus is telling them I am warning you now of things that will happen. Jesus is "forewarning" them of coming persecution.

Would I be right in assuming that the new beginning you posit is based on what William Schlegel wrote about here: https://landandbible.blogspot.com/2020/05/more-new-creation-in-gospel-of-john-why.html

The contextual support (if anything) gives credence to the fact that Jesus Christ is God in the prologue of John 1:1-14. Do you know of any man only that can turn water into wine? Do you know of any man only who knows our thoughts? Matthew 9:2-4.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jesse
    Aug 16, 2022 at 7:17
  • Great answer. The whole question is great but has a motive behind it Dec 20, 2022 at 8:35
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John 1:1-3 1:1 In the beginning[129] was the davar[130], and the davar was with ELOHIM, and the davar was Elohim[131]. 1:2 It was in the beginning with ELOHIM. 1:3 All events[132] happened on account of it, and without it, nothing which is, would have come to past.

Footnotes: [129] Vs 1:1 In the beginning. Refers to the beginning of Mashiach's manifestation, good news and ministry. Similar phrase and meaning as used by same writer and others in Jn 6:64; 8:25; 15:27; 16:4; 1Jn 1:1; 2:7; 2:13-14; 2:24; 3:11; 2Jn 1:5-6; Mk 1:1; Lk 1:2; Acts 11:15; Phi 4:15; 2Th 2:13; Heb 6:1. [130] Vs 1:1 the davar - meaning of davar here refers as always to the davar of YHWH-ELOHIM (word/ revelation of YHWH). Writer begins his testimony with reference to the 'davar' of ELOHIM (YHWH), just like the opening verses of following books - Hos; Joe; Mic; Zep; Zec; Hag; Mal; Ezr. [131] Vs 1:1 the davar was Elohim (literally - 'Mighty One'). This davar is then called the 'only begotten-Elohim' in verse 1:18. Xref Jn 10:34-35; 1Cor 8:5-6; Heb 1:8.From a related perspective, this davar, being sent (shalach) by ELOHIM to be HIS begotten-Son, Mashiach and Shaliah, is an authorised Proxy of ELOHIM, according to the Hebraic shaliah principle. Refer shalach and shaliah in App1 for details. [132] Vs 1:3 all events. Referring to all events which took place since the Mashiach's birth, death and resurrection.

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The lexical word for "beginning" varies. The word in chs 1, 2 is not ἀρχῇ (arche), but ἀρχή (arche), Strong’s 746; ἀρχῇ is Dative, how it may appear in the text at times such as 1:1. The word ἀρχή (arche) appears twice in Chapter 1. Its use so early has an impact on the hermeneutic of "first mention", appearing six times in later verses.

The word ἀρχή (arche) is always used with some sort of reference to what was happening or an ongoing status from/since the beginning and always highlights how well informed Jesus was in what he knew all along and what action he chose accordingly.

"Beginning" in English comes also from ἀπὸ (apo) in 8:9 αἰῶνος (aionos) in 9:32.

These are basic results from Logos Bible software, searching for the word "beginning" in the NASB:

  • Jn 1:1 ἀρχή (arche) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • Jn 1:2 ἀρχή (arche) He was in the beginning with God.
  • Jn 2:11 ἀρχή (arche) This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
  • Jn 6:64 ἀρχή (arche) “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
  • Jn 8:9 ἀπὸ (apo) When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.
  • Jn 8:25 ἀρχή (arche) So they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning?
  • Jn 8:44 ἀρχή (arche) “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
  • Jn 9:32 αἰῶνος (aionos) “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.
  • Jn 15:27 ἀρχή (arche) and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
  • Jn 16:4 ἀρχή (arche) “But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

There seem to be two "beginnings" referred to:

  • 1:1, 2 - the Beginning of Creation
  • 2:11 - the beginning of Jesus "signs", or what many call his "public/earthly ministry"

"First mention" seems to give a powerful demonstration here. The first time a word is used has a significant bearing on all times it is used after. This does not mean that the word is defined or has the same object, but it carries connotation.

6:64 is a reference to Judas. 8:44 is a reference to Satan. Both of these seem to point to the first beginning, of John 1.

It could also be argued that the Judas reference in 6:64 points to the "signs" beginning of John 2, when he first started gathering disciples, or when he first met Judas. But, this is not as clearly a point to John 2 as the other occurrences; it could be argued for either chapter or for pointing to both chapters, which is not outside the realm of possibility for a Greek-Jewish audience.

The remaining three occurrances of ἀρχή (arche) seem to point to the beginning of Jesus teaching or "signs" (8:25, 15:27, 16:4).

Having come immediately after Chapter 1, the "signs" beginning of 2:11 is somewhat pointing to a more poetic "beginning" with an underlying meaning of first mention in Chapter 1. So again, "first mention" will carry some weight with a Hebrew/Jewish Biblical audience. The uses of ἀρχή (arche) throughout the Gospel of John seems to be consistent with this.

The two passages that don't use ἀρχή (arche) are listed above for convenience, but are not a part of this word study since the original words are not the same: 8:9; 9:32.

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Meyer in his commentary says

John 1:1. Ἐν ἀρχῇ] John makes the beginning of his Gospel parallel with that of Genesis;[61] but he rises above the historical conception of בְּרֵאשִׁית, which (Genesis 1:1) includes the beginning of time itself, to the absolute conception of anteriority to time: the creation is something subsequent, John 1:3. Proverbs 8:23, ἘΝ ἈΡΧῇ ΠΡῸ ΤΟῦ ΤῊΝ ΓῆΝ ΠΟΙῆΣΑΙ, is parallel; likewise, ΠΡῸ ΤΟῦ ΤῸΝ ΚΌΜΟΝ ΕἾΝΑΙ, John 17:5; ΠΡῸ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛῆς ΚΌΣΜΟΥ, Ephesians 1:4. Comp. Nezach Israel, f. 48, 1 : Messias erat מפני חוהו (ante Tohu).

The same idea we find already in the book of Enoch 48:3 f., 48:6 f., 62:7,—a book which (against Hilgenfeld and others) dates back into the second century B.C. (Dilm., Ewald, and others). The notion, in itself negative, of anteriority to time (ἄχρονος ἦν, ἀκίχητος, ἐν ἀῤῥήτῳ λόγος ἀρχῇ, Nonnus), is in a popular way affirmatively designated by the ἘΝ ἈΡΧῇ as “primeval;” the more exact dogmatic definition of the ἀρχή as “eternity” (Theodor. Mopsuest., Euthym. Zig.; comp. Theophylact) is a correct development of John’s meaning, but not strictly what he himself says.

Comp. 1 John 1:1; Revelation 3:14. The Valentinian notion, that ἀρχή was a divine Hypostasis distinct from the Father and the ΛΌΓΟς (Iren. Haer. i. 8. 5), and the Patristic view, that it was the divine σοφία

Cambridge puts it this way

"In the beginning] The meaning must depend on the context. In Genesis 1:1 it is an act done ‘in the beginning;’ here it is a Being existing ‘in the beginning,’ and therefore prior to all beginning. That was the first moment of time; this is eternity, transcending time. Thus we have an intimation that the later dispensation is the confirmation and infinite extension of the first. ‘In the beginning’ here equals ‘before the world was,’ John 17:5. Compare John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; and contrast ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ Mark 1:1, which is the historical beginning of the public ministry of the Messiah (John 6:64): ‘the beginning’ here is prior to all history. To interpret ‘Beginning’ of God as the Origin of all things is not correct, as the context shews.

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  • The question is explicitly about 'arche' outside of the prologue. ? Dec 19, 2022 at 17:02
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    @OneGodtheFather This answer draws attention to Jn.17:5, cf Jn.17:24 & Jn.6:64 plus 1 John 1:1 & Rev. 3:14, both writings written by John in addition to his gospel.
    – Anne
    Dec 29, 2022 at 13:59
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    @Anne It's great that the answer obliquely references some other passages from John which contain 'arche' or might illuminate the usage of the word, but doesn't really say much about them. Instead, the focus of the answer is on John 1:1! Explicitly not what the question asks about! Dec 29, 2022 at 17:13
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"...at the beginning of the gospel..." in Philippians 4:15 show us that Paul indicated "the first time the gospel was preached in Macedonia", that is, the "beginning of the gospel ministry" in that region.

Following this logic, Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου in Mark 1:1 means the beginning of the gospel with the preaching and John the Baptist seen in Mark 1:3

And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. John. 1:5 NET

Therefore, in John 1:1, the beginning refers to the period before the manifestation of light in darkness.

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Overview of the Gospel
An examination of the verses with ἀρχή shows John was purposeful to compose the Gospel so that the uses in the Prologue would be distinct from the uses in the rest of the Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1) [ἐν ἀρχῇ]
He was in the beginning with God. (1:2) [ἐν ἀρχῇ]
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (2:11) [ἀρχὴν]
But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (6:64) [ἐξ ἀρχῆς]
So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. (8:25) [τὴν ἀρχὴν]
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (8:44) [ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς]
And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (15:27)
[ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς]
But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. (16:4) [ἐξ ἀρχῆς]

Verses 1:1 and 1:2, which most commentators understand as alluding to Genesis 1:1, are unique: only they are dative and only they are preceded by the preposition ἐν. Verses 2:11 and 8:25 are accusative with the article.1Verses 6:64 and 16:4 are genitive and preceded by the preposition ἐξ. Verses 8:44 and 15:27 are genitive preceded by the preposition ἀπ᾽.

Meaning Outside the Prologue
The meaning of τὴν ἀρχὴν in verses 2:11 and 8:25 is straightforward. It describes a beginning identified from the context. One (2:11) describes the beginning of the miracles. The other (8:25) the beginning of the conversation. Most likely this refers to Chapter 8, but it is possible John is also alluding to the hostility with those in Jerusalem which he places as beginning with Jesus clearing the Temple (Chapter 2)

The preposition ἐξ in the use ἐξ ἀρχῆς, means from. So in both 6:64 and 16:27, which were spoken to, or refer to the twelve apostles, the meaning from the beginning refers to the time when the twelve were chosen.

The preposition ἀπό in verses 8:44 and 15:27 also means from but indicates separation or possibly origin. Thus, the devil (8:44) has been a murder from the beginning of his separation or origin. This is likely a reference to the point at which he rebelled against God. The disciples (15:27) will bear witness because they have been with Jesus from the beginning. Here the beginning is either the baptism (cf. Acts 1:22), or Jesus is speaking proleptically pointing to His death and resurrection. Either point to the type of witness the apostles will have. Their witness will be authenticated by the condition of having been separated from their previous positions, for example, fishermen, from the beginning of their time of following Jesus.

Conclusion
John composed the Gospel with eight uses of ἀρχῇ. The eight uses were constructed so there would be 4 different types and each type would be used only twice. Three pairs used describe or refer to the same type of beginning: the beginning of miracles and the beginning of conversations, or the time when the twelve were chosen or the time when the twelve were separated.

The exception is the first pair which refer to the same point in history.


1. Some manuscripts have τὴν ἀρχὴν in verse 2:11.

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  • Glad to see you agree with me that all uses of 'arche' in John's Gospel that apply to Jesus (outside of the ambiguous ones in the prologue) are referring to something new (not Genesis)! :) Mar 19 at 21:35
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When we look at how 'beginning' is used throughout John's Gospel outside of the prologue (where it is arguably ambiguous, see here and here), the overwhelming emphasis is on the new beginning.

There are 6 uses of 'arche' (usually translated 'beginning') in John's Gospel, outside of the prologue. 5 out of 6 refer to the new beginning, including the three closest ones to the prologue itself.

John 2:11

"Jesus performed this, the first of [(arche, beginning of)] His signs, at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him."

John 6:64

""However, there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him.)"

John 8:25

"Just what I have been telling you from the beginning."

John 15:27

"And you also must testify, because you have been with Me from the beginning."

John 16:4

"But I have told you these things so that when their hour comes, you will remember that I told you about them. I did not tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you."

The exception to this is John 8:44, which is a reference to Satan.

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies."

This exception is ambiguous. It sounds like it refers to his refusing to uphold the truth from very early on (perhaps whenever the angels were created), but could refer to him inciting people away from the truth (Jesus' words) during Jesus' ministry, which then leads to Jesus' crucifixion. Either way, however, this use of 'arche' is not directly applied to Jesus, unlike the 5 other ones.

In summary, 5 out of 6 uses of 'beginning' (arche) outside of the prologue refer to the new beginning, and all of the uses of 'beginning' (arche) in John's Gospel outside of the prologue that are specifically about Jesus (5 out of 5) refer to the new beginning.

This gives contextual support for the claim that use of 'beginning' in the prologue, which refers to Jesus, also refers to the new beginning.

Note that John 15:27, which is

"And you also must testify, because you have been with Me from the beginning"

is very similar in basic structure to 1 John 1:1-2, which is

"That which was from the beginning [...] we have seen it and testified to it."

The beginning at John 15:27 is clearly a new beginning, so this supports 1 John 1:1-2 also being a new beginning. Also compare Luke 1:2, which is about a new beginning, and also shares 3 elements with 1 John 1:1-2.

"as they did deliver to us, who from the beginning [arche] became eye-witnesses, and officers of the word."

Both of these cohere with the idea that John 1:1 is about a new beginning, which provides further evidence for a new beginning.

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    This is a useful exercise +1. I wonder if what you propose is correct re. a/the new beginning, whether the Gr. might have been more explicit in the word was God. Yes there are alternative renditions here - what God was the logos was, has John been specifically vague to allow many invalid understandings of a such critical matter?
    – Steve
    Aug 14, 2022 at 23:10
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    @steveowen Yes, the Greek allows for multiple meanings. God, divine, a god, or even the phrasing you suggest to get at the possible sense. I think this is a Mosaic reference, as Moses was (verb to be) God twice in Exodus - both to Pharaoh and to Aaron. Moses was also pros ton theon, 'with God'. Only 3 humans are mentioned by name in the prologue - John the Baptist, Jesus, and Moses. Aug 15, 2022 at 4:38
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    @steveowen So just as Moses was God, so Jesus is God. No one thinks Moses was God ontologically, he was God in the sense of agency. But you're right - it's vague, and so we have to use the rest of the Gospel to figure out what a reasonable interpretation is. Mosaic elements are common in the Gospel. Aug 15, 2022 at 4:39
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    @steveowen If John was trying to say Jesus was God ontologically at 1:1c, the most straightforward conclusion would be Jesus is the Father, since that's Jesus' key lesson to the Apostles (when you see me, you see the Father). But that makes a hash of much of the rest of the NT. Hence if we take it as some sort of identity claim, it must be in the sense that Moses was (agency). Aug 15, 2022 at 4:43
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    Great answer and included the supportive use of "beginning" within John's gospel. There are even more of this specific support in his epistles and the other gospels. +1 John the baptist was part of the Genesis beginning? Nah... Oct 16, 2022 at 17:06

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