Does the Nazarene Manual “Teach” Limited Inerrancy?

by John Henderson on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 11:12am

I received an email that reminded me that the doctrinal statement of the Church of the Nazarene has always been essentially what it is now.  That is indeed true, all the way back to possibly 1898 but at least to 1903 before the 1908 merger, so far as “in all things necessary to our salvation” is concerned.  The following was my response:

My point is what primary leaders of the day were saying about it compared to what some are saying today that are quite different.  I especially subscribe to the statement:  “If there is any error in the Bible, there is error in God.  If there is no error in God, then there is no error in the Bible,” and similar declarations.  If the Church of the Nazarene, as a body, originally or ever has since stood on the side of limited inerrancy or whatever (which I do not believe it has), it is the Church of the Nazarene that is in error, not the Word of God.  The error has been in those who are willfully distorting H. Orton Wiley’s original statement (that which is in the Manual statement) to mean what Wiley never intended.

Richard Taylor once pointed out that the 1928 revision of the creedal statement was attributed to Wiley and that later generations took the words, “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation” as limiting inerrancy to matters of faith and practice.  Taylor explained that the objective was not to limit inerrancy but to exclude tradition, as in Catholic theology, from being a determining authority of dogma.  So, even with a statement that has been voted into the Manual, there are still those who have misapplied its originally intended meaning, either ignorantly or by design.

I have been one who has overlooked a lesson my lawyer-grandfather taught me when I, a teenager, was quoting him a string of Scripture verses in order to lead him to Jesus (he did eventually come to Christ through a lot of others’ influences).  He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Young man, if you are going to quote me something, be sure you do it in context.  There is always something that goes before and comes after what you quote.”

I have been so focused on the discussion about the meaning of the Manual statement concerning the inerrancy of Scripture that I overlooked the rest of the statement.  The full statement is this:

“We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.

“(Luke 24:44-47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21)”

The final phrase, “so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith,” explains that which came before it.  The Scripture references back it up as the authority for saying so.  Going solely on this doctrinal statement, the meaning of the doctrinal statement excludes anything the Bible does not plainly teach.  That rules out limited inerrancy, theistic evolution, open theism, everything postmodern, mysticism, emergent, etc.  Those who glom onto the first part of the statement shoot themselves in the foot by ignoring the rest of the statement because the doctrinal statement itself points directly back to the authority and complete inerrancy of the Scriptures as its support.  By this, I mean that the argument for limited inerrancy has no basis in the Manual statement at any point in the denomination’s history.  The doctrinal statement clearly limits acceptable doctrine to what the Bible teaches as God’s will.  Of course, it pertains to salvation because that is the purpose of it all in the first place.  The entire Bible has that singular purpose.  It exists for no other reason.

Someone may argue that there are always those who argue around the statement.  That is correct.  It is done on both sides of the debate.  I think it is good that it is, because those of us who come behind them may have a better understanding of original intent versus distortion, especially when it comes from those who were there.  Therefore, it is essential that we keep on doing that, as well we should about the rest of our doctrinal statements.  If one side of the debate abandons the statement, the debate is over because we no longer are talking on the same basis of authority.

From what I see in this context, there is no way one can accurately say that the Manual supports the idea of limited inerrancy.  The notion must be a superimposed meaning that is not supported by what is underneath.  The Church of the Nazarene has never issued an official doctrinal statement that says or implies or supports the notion of limited inerrancy.  That is solely within the “talking points” of those who wish it to be so.  To say that it has is to misrepresent what has been stated.

It then goes to intent. We should be examining motive. I think that is where we will discover the real purpose behind making such a far-fetched allegation about something as clear as this simple doctrinal statement about the Scriptures.

My motive is wide open to scrutiny.  My commitment is clear.  My basis of authority for revealed truth is nothing other than the Scriptures.  Every idea I encounter must pass the muster of Scriptures or be discarded as deception.  Prove me wrong on that foundation and I will change my opinion about anything.

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39 responses to “Does the Nazarene Manual “Teach” Limited Inerrancy?

  1. It’s been a long time since I researched this issue, but if memory serves, those who say Wiley teaches limited inerrancy refer to Volume One, Chapter Seven of his Systematic Theology. I remember reading that chapter and wondering where in the world the limited camp got that impression.

  2. An excellent article interpreting the manual regarding Biblical Inerrancy. I took Wiley in college and never thought that he taught limited inerrancy of Scripture. Reading our manual as written, it leaves only one conclusion, the inerrancy of Scripture, unless one takes parts out of context to reach the belief that some have. No doubt some would like to see it changed.

  3. Thanks for the good article. i would refer you to a chapter written by Daryl E. McCarty entitled, “Inerrancy in American Wesleyanism” in Inerrancy and the Church edited by John D. Hannah. You might find pages 295 – 318 valuable to your position.

    Thanks for providing an idea I had not considered.

    Jerry Warren

  4. Very good article. Context is king, especially with the example cited regarding the quotations of Scripture (One would think that more pastors, Nazarene and otherwise,would do more expository preaching on that basis alone).

    The problem in dealing with liberalism, however, is that liberals see what they want to see, regardless of what is presented against their case. If it does not fit their agenda, they dismiss it, and do so even at the expense of looking foolish.

  5. Could not agree more, about the context, and the observation about liberals. That’s how they operate.

  6. I’m sorry, but if this article of faith can be interpreted more than one way, which I believe it can, it needs to be clarified – officially. My own pastor doesn’t know what it means, but he is also unwilling to flat out say the Bible is inerrant. Regardless of what it was originally meant to do when it was written back in the day, it is obviously failing now. If it has the potential NOW to convey the wrong idea and can lead people astray, it needs to be changed.

  7. The next General Assembly will tell. In the 2009 GA in Orlando, a proposed change submitted by one of the Indiana districts failed to come up for a vote. It was table and sent to the Generals for “further study.” Will four years be enough to decide whether the Bible is inerrant or not?

  8. I appreciate this post and the thought and time placed into it. However, there is one very important thing that people tend to forget.

    It does not matter what we think the Manual says or how we interpret the Manual, how our pastor interprets the Manual, or even how our District Superintendent interprets the Manual.

    The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene is interpreted by the Board of General Superintendents.

    “The government of the Church of the Nazarene is a combination of episcopacy and congregationalism. Six elected representatives serve on the Board of General Superintendents which is the highest position within the Nazarene Church. This board is charged with the responsibility of administering the worldwide work of the Church of the Nazarene. The Board of General Superintendents also interprets the denomination’s book of polity, the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene. (www.nazarene.org/ministries/administration/visitorcenter/about/display.aspx)”

    I was greatly concerned about this topic, so I emailed the BGS and asked what is the Official Position of the CoTN. I received an email back from the BGS that they do not believe in the Full Inerrancy of the Bible. I have added the link below if you want to read the email for your self.

    http://www.gcmin.org/documents/bgs_inerrancy.pdf

    Grace and Peace,

    J.R. Bjerke

  9. Jason,
    Thanks for posting the response from the GBS. After reading it I think their is still room for a less ambigious interpretation. The reason I say this their appears to be a play on words that does not correlate with the definiation of the words found in the Thesaurus. In reality both inerrant and infallible say the same thing.

    Infallible means; not erring, incapable of making a mistake of failing. It also means unerring in doctrine, incapable of being mistaken in matters of doctrine and dogma. And dogma is a set of beliefs taught to be true and taught to be truthful and correct. I do not see any limitations on the word of God here as some might think.
    Inerrant means incapable of making mistakes.

    Infallible and inerrant mean the same thing “incapable of making a mistake.” If the Scripture is only inerrant or infallible in one’s salvation and is up for question on the rest of the Bible. How can the church preach that tithing is Biblical. It may not be. Maybe Abraham was not real, or any of the prophets, or David, or John the Baptist, or Paul. Where do we go with this. I think Karen is right it needs to be clairfied and put to bed.

  10. One of the issues raised in these discussions is that some of the Bible is inerrant and some is not. Rob Staples dismissed that completely at the Bible Tells Me So at NNU recently. The whole of Scripture inerrantly leads one to salvation in Jesus Christ.

    I believe Cunningham’s reply to the above mentioned comment is spot on. The Bible does perfectly what the Bible does: perfectly lead us to Christ. God inerrantly revealed it and humans copied it poorly, edited it badly, added and deleted from it and require constant translation and revision.

    My point is simple: God is inerrant and we are not. So the miracle about Scripture for me is that God uses it to lead us to Christ in spite of our incessant debates about words the Bible does not even use (inerrant).

    And folks divide forces over this stuff? We sound like mad Baptists instead of grace-filled Nazarenes.

    By the way, if I can ask, please SOMEONE tell me WHICH version you can buy in English is inerrant? There has to be one perfect one right? Please tell some GS to make the motion!

    The 1631 KJV was printed saying “Thou Shalt Commit Adultery”….guess that was not inerrant right??!!!! It was called the “Wicked Bible”.

    And by the way, the resolution on the Bible at GA never made it out of committee…..

    A Nazarene pastor WEARY of this discussion

    P.S. And by the way, inerrancy always insists that every detail of the Bible is historically/geographically/mathematically/scientifically sound which forces a scientific model on Scripture which was alien to its purpose.

  11. Dear anonymous pastor,

    I am WEARY of pastors who come on this blog and state these kinds of beliefs, distort what we say about inerrancy, and don’t even identify themselves. I wonder if you speak like this to your congregation? Your distrust in the Bible should disqualify you from speaking from the pulpit.

    You must be very proud that the resolution never made it out of committee. When was the last time you preached from the pulpit and clearly spoke against the inerrancy of scripture? Now that would really be something. If you believe what you say hear, let’s tell it to the entire denomination. Everybody knows who I am when they come here, and as you can see, all the folks who leave there names here are not afraid to let us know who they are.

    Manny Silva

  12. Anonymous, I always wonder why people are afraid to post his/her name. Stand behind your beliefs – that is if you really believe in them.

    I never said that a TRANSLATION is inerrant, but rather the original manuscripts. However, the neo-orthodox position of the BGS is that even the original manuscripts are errant – since God used mankind, and mankind is capable of error.

    Also, if the Bible is not a historically accurate then how can we trust the historical account of Jesus Christ? Or the historical account of the resurrection?

    To say the Bible is only inerrant as it pertains to salvation is an intellectually inconsistent position.

    I would not want to stand before God and have to give an account on why I taught that His Word contained errors. I am sure after that discussion I would be fitted for a millstone.

    Grace and Peace

  13. Lige Jeter,

    Thanks for your reply. I do not know how how much more this needs to be clarified. it has been clearly clarified (in my humble opinion). The CoTN has stated over and over again, and has demonstrated that they hold to a low-view of Scripture (limited inerrancy). They may use different words to define it or describe it, but the fact of the matter is unchanged. The CoTN takes a neo-orthodox, and progressive approach to Scripture which allows for errors in the text.

    I have many more emails, but have chosen to only release this one at this time. I have yet to see any documentation from the BGS that states “we believe the Bible to be with out error from cover to cover.” Until they take that type of stand they do not hold to a Full Inerrancy view of the Scriptures.

  14. Rev. Bjerke,

    Thank you for posting your emailed response from Paul Cunningham. I find it somewhat (for lack of a better word) arrogant when someone says, “Wesleyans believe…” and then go on to say that the Bible is or may not be not without error. John Wesley (hence, the term WESLEYAN) himself stated, “I read Mr. Jenyns’s admired tract, on the ‘Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion….’ He is undoubtedly a fine writer; but whether he is a Christian, Deist, or Atheist, I cannot tell. If he is a Christian, he betrays his own cause by averring, that ‘all Scripture is not given by inspiration of God; but the writers of it were sometimes left to themselves, and consequently made some mistakes.’ Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.” (The John Wesley Collection, Volume 6, page 117). http://www.godrules.net/li​brary/wesley/274wesley_d4.​htm

    Apparently, John Wesley did not know what Wesleyans believe. He should have asked the people to whom Paul Cunningham spoke to share their combined wisdom with him.

  15. Many of us are waiting to see what will happen with the inerrancy issue at the next general assembly. There may be a mass exodus if this article is not clarified satisfactorily.

  16. I actually used that quote from Wesley at my credentials board review in 2010. I was told that I had taken his words out of context as Wesley really was not affirming the full inerrancy of the Scriptures.

    I just laughed and said. “OK”.

    the main point is that the leadership of the denomination has already stated what the position of the denomination is. The BGS of 2009 put the resolution of inerrancy to committee and the current BGS has not let it get out.

    We need to accept the fact that the denomination as made their decision over and over again. There is nothing left to clarify. The BGS has determined that inerrancy does not apply to history, math, science, geography, etc, and that it only applies to Salvation.

  17. Hi Manny,
    I find it interesting that BGS do not find The Scripture to be inerrant on these other “matters”. Are they not of The Lord’s creation these other” matters”? While I am aware that John Ankerberg is not doctrinally aligned with us he has physicists and mathematicians on his program that are phenomenal in demonstrating how The Scriptures are inerrant. I would suggest that the BGS fix the eyes on the Lord and stop trying to garner man’s approval.
    In Christ
    Beth

  18. Jason I don’t think that you took Wesley out of context and one should stick to his or her convictions. however, I do believe some interpret Wesley’s statement to fit their position. With all respect to Wesley and his great contribution he made to the Church, God will always have the final word concerning His instructions to mankind. Our BGS should look to Scripture first for their authority. This does not exclude wise counsel from men like Wesley.

    I agree the Bible is not a book of history, as we study history in school, but it contains history in it, nor is it a book of math, though math is found in it, nor is it a book of science, though science is in it, nor is it a book of geography, though geography is in it. We as a church should recognize those areas when addressed in the Bible to include they are without error. Archeologist have unearthed enough remains to validate their truth of existence.

    I agree it is primarily written for our salvation as God revealed Himself to the world through Christ Jesus without error. He said that Heaven and earth will pass away but His word will remain forever. Therefore, from Genesis to Revelations should be taken by the church as the inerrant word of God. Apparently this is not the view that is communicated or why would some pastors believe that parts of the Bible are not true. Is it because the church has failed to communicate that their statement includes from Genesis to Revelations, or the Bible is a book of faith, and apparently some lack faith.

  19. The current leadership may have stated their limited inerrancy position over and over, but does that mean that their position can or will never change? If they will never alter their position, why are we fighting this battle at all? I, for one, am not at all comfortable questioning authority, but I have been and will continue to respectfully do so as I feel led by the Lord. Virtually all of the other troubling theological issues in our denomination hinge on this one point of biblical inerrancy/infallibility (I agree – the two terms are synonymous.) If there is no hope of change, why are we wasting our time?

  20. Jason, did the credentials board explain how you took that quote out of context and what Wesley really meant? I’ve read the context of that quote. I don’t see any other possible interpretation that what a plain reading conveys.

  21. Quote from Jason B.

    “We need to accept the fact that the denomination as made their decision over and over again. There is nothing left to clarify. The BGS has determined that inerrancy does not apply to history, math, science, geography, etc, and that it only applies to Salvation.”

    Isn’t that all that really matters: Salvation? Why do we get so fed up with each other over things that ultimately will not matter? What ever happened to a saying that Phineas Bresee had said, In essential, unity; In non-essential, liberty; and In all things charity…or John Wesley and his “Catholic Spirit”: all embracing. Can we come back to the Creeds?

    What do we say of John Wesley saying this:

    “Although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true (for to believe any opinion is not true, is the same thing as not to hold it); yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true. Nay, every thinking man is assured they are not, seeing humanum est errare et nescire: “To be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some, is the necessary condition of humanity.” This, therefore, he is sensible, is his own case. He knows, in the general, that he himself is mistaken; although in what particulars he mistakes, he does not, perhaps he cannot, know.”

    Why do we have to “divide” when we don’t like something? People say that this issue, if the Church of the Nazarene doesn’t say the Bible is inerrant in all things weakens that church…well doesn’t division?

    Rev Mikey G

  22. Rev. Mikey,

    Yes. All that really matters is salvation, and these issues we’re discussing impact the salvation of so many. Whether or not the Bible is completely true or not is pivotal to the ability of people to “repent and believe” or in other words, to be saved. If we cannot, with certainty, believe some parts of the Bible, how can we assure anyone that any part of the Bible is believable? Personally, I have known and loved people who chose to walk away from their faith as a result of the fact that they were taught in a Nazarene university that the Bible is not 100% reliable. We call it God’s Word, but act ambivalent about it’s truth? Honestly, when we represent God’s ability to communicate Truth in such a shameful, ill-conceived, weak way, I don’t blame people for walking away from Christianity.

    As a “reverend” Mikey G., and with all due respect, have you actually not given more thought to this question than to say, “Isn’t that all that really matters: Salvation?” Do you truly not understand the connectedness of biblical truth to salvation?

    I don’t advocate dividing because I “don’t like something” like the new colors of the sanctuary or the style of music. This issue is so much deeper and more important. We are told time and time again in Scripture to distance ourselves from aberrant teaching and to “rightly divide the word of truth”. Are we to remain unified, smile pleasantly and nod cooperatively no matter what is taught from the pulpit? I don’t think the Bible teaches that at all.

    Also, your Wesley quote sidesteps the issue. We are not discussing matters of opinion. This is about God’s Truth.

  23. Rev MikeyG,

    Thank you for your response. I find your position interesting “Isn’t that all that really matters: Salvation?” I would find it hard to believe that any born-again Christian would say anything is more important than Salvation – as this is the most important thing in life.

    That being said, why would a person trust the Bible to lead them to Salvation (the most important thing) if it cant even get the simple things and the minor things right. Who in his or her right mind would say “well, the Bible is wrong on history, geography, math, science, etc, but for the destination of my eternal soul I am going to believe the writers of the Bible got it right?”

    That makes as much sense as using a GPS device for a cross-country trip that has consistently failed to get you to the convenient store around the block.

    While, John Wesley and Phineas Bresee may have said some inspiring comments on “getting along”, it is interesting that those in leadership of the CoTN have no desire to get along with those who hold a high-view of Scripture (Full Inerrancy).

    Grace and Peace

  24. Sondra, Mikey G, et al,

    Do you honestly see any other opinion besides a church split? I feel like it is inevitable. If the BGS does decided to affirm complete inerrancy/infallibility then you have mass exodus of younger/emergent/more liberal types as well as hardline Wesleyans. However, if the BGS takes an official stance to deny inerrancy you have mass exodus of the Concerned Nazarene/conservative/psuedo-Baptist type folks. I suspect the generals are smart enough to know this and that is why no official clarification will be given. They benefit from a larger denomination.

    Wouldn’t it be better to just go ahead and split and let the two sects go their own way. Wouldn’t that be better than the current division and arguing? Because lets be honest the majority of the kids who graduate from Nazarene universities this May, and that actually stay in the church, are going to be liberal/emergent types. (I said the majority, not all). And they aren’t going to change their position anymore than Tim Wirth is going to host a prayer labyrinth in his backyard.

  25. To summarize what Recovering Pastor has stated:
    The liberal element has key control in the educational institutions, the publishing houses, and now the liberal influence has finally filtered down to the pulpit……and those in the pews are hearing a different message. (for the most part) This liberal takeover process is still in its insidious takeover mode. (Not every pastor or professor has succumbed or been maligned…..yet. There is yet a remnant.)

  26. Exnazarene,

    Close but not quite. I will agree that there are a fair number of emergent/liberal types in positions of power, but I would hardly call it a take over. Yes, the universities swing to the more liberal side, but universities are always more liberal. As far as the BGS goes I can think of at least 3 generals off the top of my head who I would call conservative (i.e., would never favor a liberal/emergent agenda.) Also I would say the “conservative camp” is more than a remnant. The split seems to be fairly even based on my experience and observation. Granted there are still a large number of undecideds/people who just don’t care.

    Anyway, my point is the lines seem to be drawn in the sand. Most are not going to change their positions. At this point I don’t see why a church split would be a bad thing. Just have two independent denominations. Why isn’t anyone advocating that position? Is there value in unity?

  27. exnazarene,

    you are correct that there is a remnant. However, the denomination is slowly removing those who hold to orthodox positions and speak against the heretical teachings.

    Case in point. I refused to “agree” that the Bible had errors, told the credentials board that I would speak against “the official” position of the church on inerrancy. To make a long story short, I no longer have my district license (I held a district license for 5 years, and took 23 of the 26 classes in the course of study) and it was agreed that I would not register for any more classes at NBC.

    Grace and Peace,

  28. Jason:

    In my humble opinion, for what it is worth, the church is the loser not you. From what I read that you have written, you are no threat to the church because you held to your convictions despite their short sidedness. The hypocrisy that I see with the stand taken by the church against you is that it allows heresy to flourish without removing the credentials of those who support teachings that are against the church. May God help.

  29. So what do we do when folks like Jason are obviously being punished for defending Bible inerrancy? This is so wrong it makes me sick. We are being persecuted by our own. Don’t some of these folks realize that they are literally fulfilling end time prophecy? Or do they even believe in prophecy?

  30. Karen D.,
    I don’t believe that it is our own that are persecuting those of us who hold to the Truth. It is time to stand on the Truth and hold up The Lord’s Standard, The Word, identify those as who the are, they are opposed to The Lord. They do not believe in prophecy or the rest of The Scripture. They surely need our prayers that their eyes and hearts would be opened and that they would believe on His Holy Name. Until then they will continue to persecute the faithful.
    In Christ,
    Beth

  31. Jason,

    I’m just curious, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but are still ministering in the Church of the Nazarene? If so why have you decided to stay? I’m curious because I chose to leave the Church of the Nazarene, and I don’t understand why everyone is so set on staying. There are a bunch of other evangelical denominations that teach and hold to inerrancy of scripture. Why not just go to one of those?

    Is there really any hope of turning the Church of the Nazarene in a new direction?

  32. The replies to this article have been so well stated that I can not add anything of material consequence. But, I would like to add a little bit of common sense.

    I am always – ALWAYS – amused and confounded when anyone has the audacity to stand in judgment on Holy Scriptures.

    I am amused because of the arrogance required for the creation to stand and judge the Creator and the Word of the One and only Living God.

    This very limited human agent (man) points his insignificant little finger at an admittedly Omniscient, All Powerful God and says “YOU, MY GOD, ARE MISTAKEN!” yet man cannot properly conduct nor extend his own pathetic little life for even one minute. Humorous.

    I am confounded as I watch the arrogant bring judgment on themselves. There is a silly old song that has the lyric “don’t spit into the wind” assuming that your spit will be blown back into your own face and you will indeed reap what you sow. Yet, some self-professing Christians will follow the colloquial common sense of these type lyrics but will question (and ignore) the Infinite Wisdom of the Bible which tells us that God’s judgment will fall on anyone who changes even a comma in His Word.

    Caution: God’s is long suffering (very patient) and merciful. But, He grows weary of the proud, the arrogant and the defiant. They will incur His judgment. (But, some of you don’t believe ALL of that. Do you? Too harsh is it?)

    The book of James says that we must have FAITH or that we should expect NOTHING from God. So, for those who make excuses for God’s Word or claim ignorance or claim to possess a higher understanding, the silence following your prayers must be deafening.

    And how do you pour so much time, energy and money into something you doubt is right? Is it just an educated guess? I pity your indecision.

    Finally, I must remind myself that this article is mainly about interpreting the Nazarene manual regarding inerrancy. I have always found that a little odd, even as a child. A book which was created by man, which is observed (and obeyed?) and referenced which Christian Nazarenes use to describe the BOOK of God? I have always been a little embarrassed to admit that as a (now, former) Nazarene we were critical of the Catholics ‘extra books’ and the Mormons ‘extra prophet and beliefs’. But, now I admit it. The MANUAL is an “add on” which publically announces our beliefs and now our UNbelief.

    I believe a schism of sorts is in the making. A shaking, as they used to say. Is God now in the process of separating the goats from the Sheep? The tares from the Wheat? Believers from doubters?

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