Sunday, December 28, 2008

Was The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) The Rich Young Ruler? (3)

Read all posts on this idea here.

After posting part 2 of this series last night, and reviewing comments left by a reader named Chadwick, many new angles to this idea popped into my head and I had a hard time sleeping. After church today I hit up my pastor with a theological question. I occasionally broadside him with something theological out of the blue, so he humorously braced himself. "Is there a reason you know of off the top of your head that prohibits the rich young ruler from being Saul of Tarsus?" His reply floored me. He was just discussing this very thing with his wife last night!

So, here I'm going to outline what I suspect so far as briefly as I can, and I will include my new thoughts. I may save detailed explanations until later. So, here goes...

A few years ago I started wondering about the Apostle Paul's past. Where did he come from and why did he persecute the church so much? Specifically, since he is first mentioned in the bible as Saul of Tarsus who was standing by during the stoning of Stephen, could he have been both alive and in Jerusalem during Christ's ministry? The early happenings in the book of Acts occurred just weeks or months after Christ's death, and revolved around the temple in Jerusalem. If so, would he ever have had occasion to meet Christ? He was after all a Pharisee, and the Pharisees spent much time in Jesus' face as He ministered. Specifically, I wondered (I don't know why) if he could have been the rich young ruler that asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. People just don't wake up one morning and decide to persecute followers of a religion, so Paul would have had a good understanding of Christianity and a fairly large chip on his shoulder to persecute it the way he did.

The rich young ruler encounters Jesus in the passage of Matthew 19, asking him how to inherit eternal life. When Jesus replies that he needed to keep the commandments, he asked which ones. Jesus read the second table and its summary, to love one's neighbor. But he purposely left out the tenth commandment against coveting, which was the rich young ruler's problem. Rather than picking up on this, he used his own keeping of Jesus' list to justify himself. Jesus told him to sell all and give to the poor and follow Him. He left disappointed because he owned much. But after the rich young ruler leaves, Jesus and His disciples continue to talk about him. He is the context for the subsequent conversation.

Jesus said to His disciples that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The context here was... the rich young ruler. In fact, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter. The context here was... the rich young ruler. The disciples asked then who could be saved, if a rich young ruler couldn't. Jesus' reply was "With men this is impossible..." This is in reference to the man who just claimed to have kept all the commandments, the context here being... the rich young ruler. By now you might be noticing a pattern here. Each statement has as its context Jesus' interaction with the rich young ruler. I believe this pattern continues throughout the discussion. Jesus continued with, "...but with God, all things are possible." Now, contrary to many commentaries I've read about the rich young ruler leaving Christ for good, and God never desiring to save him because of his attempt at salvation by law, I'm now convinced that Jesus might be secretly prophesying to His disciples that this young man who they just heard would in fact enter the kingdom. There is grace even for him. So when Jesus said that all things are possible with God, the context was... the rich young ruler.

The reason I believe this is because the very next statement by Peter has, again, as its context... the rich young ruler. He said, "Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then will there be for us?" Jesus just said the same thing to the rich young ruler, selling everything and following Him; he is still the context. Now for the exciting part. In answering Peter, Jesus told them about the kingdom, "...you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Okay, there's a minor glitch here that the disciples didn't know about yet. Only eleven of them would sit upon the thrones. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus and commit suicide. A substitute apostle would need to be selected (personally by Christ, like the others, and not by men casting lots - sorry, Matthias). Since the context hasn't changed yet, why should we expect it to change right now in the middle of Jesus' discussion? The context would still be... the rich young ruler. Yes, the rich young ruler, whom the disciples just met a few minutes ago, would be the twelfth apostle to sit on the thrones. This apostle would later be recognized as Paul. Jesus then concludes this section of His discussion with something very interesting. "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." Interesting indeed, if just like throughout the entire discussion so far the context is still... the rich young ruler. This rich young ruler would be the last apostle appointed by Christ, yet in some way would be first. It is necessary to point out that Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, and wrote the majority of epistles in the New Testament. He is the poster child for persecution and the major player in hashing out major doctrines. He is the key instigator of church planting, and writes extensively about church life and his relationship to the churches in the New Testament. He has become an apostle of first importance.

Now I'd like to back up and discuss how the rich young ruler encountered Christ. Matthew 19:16 says, "And behold, one came to Him and said, 'Teacher...' " But just before this (the first half of Matthew 19), Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees that ended with, "And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there." It seems most likely to me that the rich young ruler wouldn't have come out of nowhere to meet Christ just after He left the place where He talked to the Pharisees. The rich young ruler would most likely have been one of the Pharisees interacting with Jesus, who then followed Jesus when He left and asked his question shortly thereafter. It is human nature for the most inquisitive among us to follow an authority figure out after his speech to engage in a smaller Q and A session. Saul was a Pharisee, so if he were the rich young ruler, he would fit this account.

More evidence for me that this is true comes from very striking parallels between topics in Matthew 19 and in Paul's writings in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7. When we encounter several things together in important events in life, we have a tendency to repeat those things together when we tell other stories or make certain points later on in life. First, Jesus pointed out to the rich young ruler that coveting was his problem. Paul mentions in Romans 7 that coveting was his problem. It is the only commandment of the Law that he says that about. Now, if Saul were present at Jesus' discussion in the first part of Matthew 19, he would also have heard Jesus discuss God's Law with respect to marriage and divorce. A discussion of marriage laws followed by a discussion of the law against coveting. How coincidental, then, that in Romans 7 Paul discusses God's law concerning marriage followed by his own struggle with the law against coveting. Paul personalizes coveting, which is what Jesus was pointing out to him. Coincidence? Or is the rich young ruler the one and same as the Apostle Paul? He would be recalling his encounter with Jesus - a life changing one at that - in his writings to others.

Another parallel occurs between Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. After Jesus discusses marriage according to God's Law, noting that Moses' inclusion of a divorce clause in the Law was only for the purpose of showing grace to those who were burdened with a marriage to heard hearted people, His disciples question whether it would be good to never marry. Jesus' response is mystical and personal. "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given...there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." Paul was unmarried. Hmmm. In Matthew 19, Jesus combines talk of marriage with talk of remaining single for the sake of the kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul combines talk of God's law regarding marriage with talk of remaining single for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus' reply to His disciples would also have been a personal message to a listening Saul that Saul would use years later in writing to a church. Additionally, when Paul writes, "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord..." and, "But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever...", I believe he has his personal encounter with Christ in mind. Jesus gave instructions that divorce shouldn't happen. Paul would have been there to hear this command directly from Jesus. This is why he could say, "...I give instructions, not I, but the Lord" because he was there that day to hear it directly from the Lord's mouth. But, when he says, "But to the rest I say, not the Lord...", he means that Jesus didn't teach that day on what to do in case you are married to an unbeliever. Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and not to the Gentiles. Marriages that Jesus would have come in contact with would have been between two members of the covenant. He ministered in Judea. Paul now had to deal with Gentile marriages where one became a Christian. He was now proclaiming his authority as an apostle to state that there should still be no divorce if the other party desired to remain.

One last thing. Matthew 20, a continuation of the discussion in Matthew 19, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Jesus pointed out that the first laborers who were paid last shouldn't be envious because the late comers were paid first. They were simply getting what was agreed to earlier. This could have been a lesson to the eleven to not be envious of Paul who arrived last, thus working fewer hours.

Okay, I'm pretty certain given all this that the rich young ruler was Saul of Tarsus who would later become the Apostle Paul. The coincidences are simply too freaky to me to suggest otherwise. All comments are welcome and especially solicited. More later?

21 comments:

  1. Some have postulated that the Rich Young Ruler was Luke.

    I have a better theory. I have read your whole essay and don't believe Paul was the Rich Young Ruler.

    I might argue that it was in fact Barnabas.

    Or we don't know.

    Barnabas because he had so much to make up for and therefore became an encouragement.

    And the lead apostle over Paul at the beginning.

    I can do a pretty good Midrash of what life was like after the Rich Young Ruler walked away. Not angry. Sad. At a distance. Watched with sadness the crucifixion.

    Then the resurrection. And victory.

    May have been in the crowd of 500 watching Jesus ascend into heaven. And very likely would have been with the hundred twenty ten days later at Pentecost.

    By the way, did you ever wonder what the other 380 had to do that was so important to NOT obey Jesus command as he ascended into heaven. Did they have a golf game?

    So, I don't see a great argument for Paul. If he had wanted to follow Jesus he would have. Not as a Pharisee but as a disciple.

    He wasn't a halfway guy. PLUS....
    the stoning of Stephen. Pretty far stretch.

    Good argument, I don't buy it.

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  2. Gene,

    Thanks for the comment. I came across one commentary that thought the rich young ruler could have been John Mark.

    "PLUS....the stoning of Stephen. Pretty far stretch."

    Gene, I'm not getting what you mean by this. The rich young ruler couldn't have been been at or approved the stoning of Stephen? Or... Paul couldn't have been there? Paul was there, we know that from Scripture.

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  3. What I mean by a far stretch....

    Here is a man who wanted to follow Jesus, who sought him out, who had many right things going on, save one.

    That is not the same guy in my view who would or could stone Stephen. I know he was there and all, but I'm thinking about someone who encountered the Christ....

    And, he didn't encounter him as a pharisee... But as a Ruler.

    A bit different.

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    1. And Gene it is not an exercise in intellect. Jesus must draw a person to Himself. So Paul may have been seeking Christ but it was only because he was being drawn in by the Holy Spirit to Christ. He fought as we all do before coming and submitting. That is why Jesus said "it is hard for you to kick against the pricks". Christ was drawing him but he was resisting. But for the elect of God resistence is futile. And I might add as my proof the disciple that Christ chose, Judas Iscariot! He walked, talked and lived with Christ and betrayed him of his own self determination. However, he fulfilled the scripture about the son of perdition. So I see no stretch at all but perfect syncretism with the text.

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  4. I would bet the rich young ruler is no one anyone knows - a vague person to make a point concerning money and faith.

    If it was Paul - believe me (if this story is in Luke) - they wouldn't have left his name out (since he was later added as a premier apostle and of some notability). We find Matthew in his own gospel - for some odd reason. John in his own.

    Why would they leave Paul out - the gospels were written after Paul and noting him would be of much importance to theie case for this faith (namely in a gospel they were planning to use as a teaching tool).

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    1. We must remember that all though the disciples wrote the gospels the real Author was God.

      For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:21

      This was God's will to omit his name. Only God knows why things are omitted or written but we can learn as much from what God doesn't say as much as from what He does.

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  5. Gene and Society have made some good points. Okay, Gene, I understand now. Somebody as "type A" as Paul would have been more forceful about his encounter with Jesus.

    I have briefly thought about both these points. Why wouldn't Paul be named elsewhere? I don't have an answer to these things. Also, I'm not aware that there would be a difference between a ruler and a Pharisee.

    Thanks for your input.

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  6. I thought a Pharisee was a ruler....

    John 3:1 seems to imply that (along with other things I've read regarding the Pharisee's role in the Jewish people's lives and in relation to Rome as well)
    John 3:1 - "Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews"

    I have no idea at all whether Paul was the rich young ruler in question, but I can easily see various scenarios putting him as that person as well as not that person. As to the stoning of Stephen, easy to see him there. I have met enough people who would respond with incredible anger at being rebuffed (even softly) as the rich young ruler was, it's amazing what a small (or large) dose of pride will do to a man. For example, "How dare he reject me as his follower! Doesn't he know how good it would be for him to have me as one of his disciples!? He must not be the wise teacher that I thought he was! He has made me look like a fool!" And thereby he could then become a persecutor of Jesus. And again I could see the opposite reaction of a humble man, that of being sad and looking on from a distance. From my understanding of Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees, they didn't seem to be a particularly humble bunch of guys. This would all be assuming that the rich young ruler was a Pharisee, which we don't know.

    These are the kinds of things people write books on and make millions Steve! Go for it! lol
    Maybe make it into a series like the the premil dispensational phenom of Tim LaHaye's. I think yours would be more worthwhile reading though, even if it isn't true. That would be the one thing you'd have in common with LaHaye's books! lol

    I gotta get to bed! That was a long post! :-p

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  7. 1. If the gospel writers were prophesying of the rich young ruler becoming an apostle later, then would have mentioned his name. (the very idea is absurd - it is straining for proof of Paul's apostleship when there is none but his own word)

    2. If you read Paul's own biography in Galatians chapters 1-2 and compare to Acts, you will find numerous contradictions caused by Paul lying about himself. He proves that he is lying by saying "I'm not lying" which you only say when you are lying. Plust Jesus says let your conversation be yea yea or nay nay because whatever is more than these (an oath, or an "I'm not lying") is from the evil one.

    3. Paul attacks the real apostles in Galatians 2 because all he has to prove his own apostleship is his claim of having seen a light (not a man, just a light) and heard a voice (that he didn't even recognize as Jesus' voice, so he had to ask the voice "Who are you, Lord?").

    4. As to Matthais being appointed by the 12 casting lots, Peter was given the power of binding and loosing by Christ, so whatever Peter bound on earth was bound in heaven, hence Matthais is bound as the 12th apostle. Paul was never given any power of binding or loosing, so nothing he says is binding.

    5. Paul teaches that it is ok to eat in an idol's temple as long as no "weaker brother" sees you doing it. The person with no desire whatever to eat in an idol's temple is termed by Paul as the "weaker brother" which confirms that Paul is the new "Balaam" referenced by John in Revelation 2 when Jesus says there are some who hold the doctrine of Balaam and teach his people to eat things sacrificed to idols -- Balaam there is Paul and those who hold Balaam's doctrines are Paulinists.

    6. All asia rejected Paul before he died, as he tells Timothy "you know all those in Asia have rejected me." Why so? Galatia is in Asia and includes the cities of Lystra and Derbe. The Ephesians, Colossians, and Laodiceans are also Asian. Most likely they say his lies in Galatians 1-2, where he lies about himself to make himself look better and lies about Peter, James, and John to make them look bad, and they say these lies for what they were, the strainings of a non-apostle to make himself out to be an apostle. Hence, we find in Revelation 2:2 that Jesus through John commends the Ephesians for finding out that certain men claiming to be apostles were not. I'm thinking these men were Paul and Barnabas.

    7. Paul is a liar even in Acts. He is caught in the temple because the Jews thought he took Greeks into the temple and for preaching against the Law. Then when placed on trial before the Sanhedrin for this (i.e. supposedly bringing Gentiles into the temple and preaching against the Law) he lies to the Sanhedrin to divide them, perceiving that part are Saducees and part Pharisees, he says "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and for the hope of the resurrection I am called into question this day." The last part was a lie, assuming the first two were not. If he truly was now a Christian, how was he still a Pharisee? Or is he admitting to not being a Christian, or denying being a Christian?

    8. Paul was a coward. When Agabus foretold that Paul would be arrested at Jerusalem, Paul said "I am not ready to be bound only, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of Christ." But once arrested in Jerusalem, rescued from the Jews by the Romans, and after having been in jail some time, he is given the opportunity to be tried before the Jews in Jerusalem. There he could proudly proclaim himself a Christian (instead of saying "I am a Pharisee" as he did the last time before the Sanhedrin) and die a martyr. But instead, he tells the govener, "I refuse to be put to death unless I am guilty--so I appeal to Caesar." Anything to save his sorry hide for a few more months.

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    1. Anonymous......you should have stayed so! Your arguments are juvenile and absurd! And you sound like a Catholic Zombie! Let go of your religion and follow Jesus Christ the One true Pope and leader of the Universal Church. Not Roman Catholicism.

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  8. Roberta B.5/5/09, 8:52 PM

    A friend directed me to your comments about Saul possibly being the rich young ruler. I want to think further about this, but offer two thoughts off the top of my head (as a Bible teacher). First I checked to see if there was a parallel of this account in Luke, and there is, in chapter 18:18 - 30. As Paul's traveling companion on several of his missionary expeditions, it seems Luke would have identified Saul/Paul by name (even if Matthew and Mark did not). Luke was a pretty thorough historian. Also, I would want to check in verse 24 in the Greek if "the rich" is singular or plural. That might indicate whether Jesus speaks of the rich as a group of people, or specifically the rich young ruler. But it is fun to speculate, isn't it? One of my favorite speculations if compiling a list of the 120 who were in the upper room when the Holy Spirit arrived on Pentecost.

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    1. MY GUESS IS THAT THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A RECOGNITION OF THE RICH YOUNG RULER, BY CHRIST, ON THAT ROAD TO DAMASCUS, IF HE WAS INDEED PAUL.

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  9. Roberta, thanks for the comment! Yes, it is fun to speculate... just as long as we aren't dogmatic about it. Oh, I wasn't one of the 120, so that should help you out a bit by narrowing your list down. :)

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  10. Mr. Scott, I do not know if you will still read past comments, but I think you might be encouraged here. Several years ago, I came to similar conclusions about the potential of Saul/Paul being the Rich Young Ruler.

    Today, while researching for a book I'm writing (about being a layman with an opinion about Christianity, which appears to be your schtick as well), I happened upon your blog.

    In this chapter in my book, I am only postulating Saul/Paul's relation to the Rich Young Ruler as speculation since we cannot know for certain whether the two are the same, but I would like to list this page as a source to prove that I'm not the only one with this thought.

    By the way, the chapter is on misplaced zeal and Saul/Paul was brought up because I looked at the Rich Young Ruler and deduced it was possible that, upon leaving Jesus, who told him to give up his covetousness (as you pointed out, Paul's personal transgression), Saul/Paul would leave bitter, angry, and would likely have been glad to call upon Christ's crucifixion, and then his own guilty conscience might have led him to persecute the church until the Road to Damascus.

    Once again, this is all speculation, but it is fun to theorize, as long as we do not get to serious about making a doctrine. God bless, sir.

    Ken Dickason

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  11. This past Sunday we were in Luke 18 and reviewing this parable and just as my Pastor was using Paul's comment in Romans 7 about how the sin of coveting was what convicted Paul to the heart, I felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me that the Rich Young Ruler was Saul. I am glad to see that I am not the only person who has had this thought.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, NM. There are others who have done far more research than me. One fellow I know of did a master's paper on the topic.

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  12. Matt Plumlee3/14/13, 7:42 PM

    Thank you for your research. I was just led to this question during a study of Philippians 3:1-11 and it was helpful to see both your insights and the responses. I had never noticed the missing commandment and am glad to accept that it could have been him or not, and it really doesn't matter all that much in the end.

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  13. Matt, thanks for your comment. Yes, it may not matter much here to us in the end. But if he were the rich young ruler, it would help explain some of the things he did and said as an apostle. For what it's worth.

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  14. I think it is significant for us to understand. This order came out of the Jews Babylonian captivity and their traditions blinded them literally from seeing their Messiah. For this 'rich,young ruler to be seeking acceptance with God shows the tender mercy of our God to include even religious and intellectuals into the fold.

    The Pharisees were a very strict sect of Jews that not only adhered to the Law but made stringent observances and rules to govern their behavior which ultimately became a snare for them and led to the self righteous posture that these men took regarding the Law.

    This is why they considered Christ a law breaker. Seeking to use the letter of the Law to prosecute Christ instead of seeing the heart and soul of the Law, they crucified their Messiah. This was their error but in doing so they fulfilled God's decree in salvation.

    Saul "desired" becomes Paul "small or little", showing the significance of a heart transformed by the Gospel of Christ. Before he was seeking to justify his acceptance of God based on his own righteousness, a common practice of humanity, and was shown that not only was he lacking but also unable to fulfill the laws requirement which possibly enraged him.

    Even his disciples, looking at this wealthy and seemingly blessed ruler were perplexed and even asked "who then can be saved?" I think it is an incredible amount of insight to see the possibility of Christ foreshadowing Sauls conversion in the text by stating that with men it is impossible but with God ALL things are possible. Nothing is stated in the scripture or implied for no apparent reason. Everything God chooses to say or not say is of great importance for us!

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  15. When Paul made his legal defense before Agrippa he stated that “I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them (Acts 26:10).” The phrase “I cast my vote” comes from two Greek words καταφέρω and ψῆφος. According to Strong’s Dictionary, καταφέρω means “to cast against” and when used with ψῆφος, “a small, worn, smooth stone, a pebble”, it means “to give one’s vote against.” Thayer wrote that “in the ancient courts of justice the accused were condemned by black pebbles and acquitted by white.” Thus, Paul was a voting member of the Sanhedrin or “the Court of Seventy-One.” The Sanhedrin was made of seventy members plus the ruling high priest. This was a small and select group of ruling Jewish elders who traced their origin to Moses and his council of seventy in Num. 11:16. They were the only Jewish rulers in the first century, but their power was limited by the Roman government.

    Almost every Jewish person would have known the seventy-one Jewish rulers. There must have been a reason that none of the three Gospel writers who record the story of the rich young ruler wrote his name. Every other member of the Sanhedrin that spoke with Jesus is named specifically except the rich young ruler.

    Why is this important? Because, Paul was wealthy and came from an affluent family who owned a tentmaking business. The black tents of Tarsus were used by caravans, nomads, and armies all over Asia Minor and Syria. Paul was a Dispersion Jew born in Tarsus with the coveted title "civis Romanus" or "citizen of Rome." His family's wealth and position granted him the title from birth.

    Yes, Paul was rich. He was young. And he was one of seventy-one Jewish rulers. It is probable that he was the rich young ruler.

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    1. Jason, welcome and thank you very much for the comment. This is fascinating stuff. (Can't wait for the big bible lesson in the sky where we learn all this stuff, what really happened.)

      Paul's wealth is also interesting because we often tend to paint Paul's tent-making as some kind of part time, minimum wage job that merely allows him to eat and clothe himself - or at least in my experience.

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