Years ago I worked out my view of the whole Dispensationalism/Covanentalism thing. Well, “worked out” is not the best way to put it. I put down a position flag that was somewhat tentative and have not revisited it in some time.

If you are not familiar with this issue, let me attempt to help. There are two theological camps out there called “dispenationalists” and “covanentalists.” While there are many prophetic implications (how you view the end times, millennium, rapture, anti-Christ, etc), the primary issue has to do with how you see the nation of Israel in relation to the church. Are they distinct or one? Is their a future for the nation of Israel? Is there a distinct future for the nation of Israel? Has the Abrahamic covenant been fulfilled, forfeited, or transferred? If fulfilled, is the fulfillment literal or spiritual?

There. Clear as mud?

Let me try again.

Dispensationalist believe that there is still a future for the nation of Israel (the literal descendants of Abraham) due to their understanding that the Abrahamic covenant has yet to be completely fulfilled.

Covanentalists believe that the church has assumed the Abrahamic covenant and is the “spiritual” Israel. In Christ, there is no distinction between true (faithful) Israel and the church.

Though I graduated from the Mecca of Dispenationalism, I am honest enough to admit that both sides have good arguments and good people representing these arguments. Everyone should be able to have a great deal of understanding and empathy as to why each side believes the way they do. If they don’t, then I suspect they have not really studied the issue. 

Confusing this even more is all the variations that construct an ever growing spectrum of belief between the two. Dispensationalists come in many varieties (with “Progressive Dispensationalism” holding the scholarly consensus among Dispensationalists these days). So does Covanentalism. As well, there is more to each than a simple side by side comparison. Sometimes they are not alternative parallel rival views about a particular issue, but would be better understood as comparing apples and oranges.

Theologically speaking, it is important for us to understand that this issue should be seen as a secondary issue. In other words, this should certainly not cause anyone to break fellowship. It is a non-cardinal issue that does not have any bearing whatsoever on one’s orthodoxy (much less one’s salvation).

However, being non-essential does not mean that it is non-important. I think it is important for us to wrestle with these things and take them seriously, even if we are unwilling to elevate them in an imbalanced manner.

My purpose with here is to briefly present my position which could be thought of as a mediating position between two extremes. I introduced this in 2002 during the filming of The Theology Program. It is called “Progressive Covanentalism” and represents my tentative flag in the ground concerning the Israel-Church-future thing.

Progressive Covenantalism: God made one covenant of redemption to man that has been progressively fulfilled and understood throughout the ages by way of “installments.” The first “installment” was made to Adam and Even in Eden when God vaguely promised to fix what they broke (protoevangelion; Gen. 3:15). This was a covenant of redemption made by God to man. It was the first promise concerning redemption. All successive covenants are further installments to this covenant, representing extensions of the first, making it progressively more clear how this was going to play out.

Sense this does take from the best of dispensationalism, it is only fitting that I have a chart:

Each covenant extends God’s purpose and blessing from the beginning. While there are “dispensations” (ways of relating to God) that form the historical backdrop to this progress, the one covenant of redemption is the central focus, not the dispensations.

The Edenic Covenant of redemption was extended first in the Abrahamic Covenant in that God’s promises to Abraham provided an avenue through which the covenant of redemption would be accomplished. God promised that Abraham (and by extension his physical descendants) would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3).

The Mosaic Covenant was an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant. The nation of Israel (Abraham’s decedents) were to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6), representing God to the nations. While this Covenant could only be fulfilled in Christ it served multiple purposes in the broader scheme and served as a tutor for God’s people (Gal. 3:24). Christ became the ultimate priest to the nations (Heb. 6:20).

The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:8-16) progressed even further giving details about the royal line of redemption and restoration. The eternal peace that is promised is a redemption from the toil of the curse (2 Sam. 7:11).

The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) represents an internalization of the previous for a “matured” or “tutored” people. In the Church, the New Covenant begins to find its fulfillment through the new creation in Christ. This “new creation” is a correction of the fall and therefore a final stage in the fulfillment of the first covenant.

 The New Covenant was not simply for Israel, but for Israel as it extended its purpose of representing the people of God into the nations. The church itself is a progressive extension of the covenant made to Israel. Therefore, as far as the covenant goes, the Church is the umbrella of God’s protection and restoration that he used Israel to create. Redemned Israel rests under it along with all the nations of the earth.

The Kingdom Age (or millennium) is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. But, remember, the Abrahamic Covenant is an extension of the Edenic Covenant. Therefore, the millennium is not simply for the nation of Israel, but for all those who are under the umbrella. The Church has assumed the promises of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), but this does not mean that the physical descendants of Abraham are not assumed into the church and destined to become partakers of this kingdom in and with the church. Therefore, there is not a distinct future for the physical descendants of Abraham, but there are promises yet to be fulfilled that require the physical blood of Abraham (the natural branches) to be assumed back into the tree or (as I have put it) the umbrella  (Rom. 11:17-26).

In the end, there is only one people of God, one New Covenant, and one heaven. The millennial fulfillment is not simply for Israel, but to all people whom have taken part in the extension of God’s covenant of redemption. There is no eternal distinction between the church and Israel. However, the natural branches must to be grafted back into the olive tree. If this is the case, they are distinct only to the degree that they have yet to be assumed into the church. There is a definite future for the nation of Israel. God will bring Israel into the church which they birthed. The church has not replaced Israel as a nation. They remain united and distinct.

I remain a dispensationalist simply because I continue to see that God is not done with the nation of Israel. However, the dispensations themselves are very secondary. All traditions, technically speaking, believe in dispensations. This is not the issue. Therefore, I drop the term. The covenant of redemption is the issue. It has been progressively revealed throughout Scripture starting in Eden. Therefore, I am a “Progressive Covanentalist.”

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    28 replies to "Where I Stand on Dispensationalism"

    • Dave

      Michael,
      Thanks for such a reasoned and moderate viewpoint on this hot-button issue. It’s refreshing to see this issue treated with your halmark tempered attitude and understanding. (Not withstanding your recent post on “survival.” I mean, really…) It’s also refreshing to see a dispensationalist who isn’t blindingly fixated on eschatology. Bravo.

      While I can’t help but come to a covenantalist viewpoint when I read Paul – especially Romans – I certainly respect your viewpoint. You said that you remain a dispensationalist “because [you] continue to see that God is not done with the nation of Israel.” Fair enough. My question is this: What promises has God made to the physical nation of Israel that aren’t fulfilled in Christ and would require a future, physical intervention from God apart from the Church?

      In Christ,
      Dave

    • Cadis

      Dave,

      I know your question is for Michael, I’m not going to answer your question, but your comment….

      “It’s also refreshing to see a dispensationalist who isn’t blindingly fixated on eschatology.”

      ..is immediately followed by questioning Michael about what promises are not fufilled and would require a yet “future physical intervention from God”

      Aren’t you asking Michael about his eschatology?

    • Dave

      Cadis,
      Great question! As a covenantalist I believe that the promises to Israel have already been completed in Christ and are therefore not in the future. Hence, the covenantalist doesn’t believe this has any impact on escatology at all.
      Dave

    • Cadis

      The reason I pointed this out is because the majority of dispensationalists are fixated on either unfulfilled promises or just promises that speak to a yet future fulfilling. It’s not really a fixation on the future or eschatology, but from a dispensationalists view, it is a fixation on past promises that still await what cannot be found or were never promised to the church.

      To say a dispensationalist is fixated on eschatology is like saying the O.T. saints were fixated on a coming messiah. True, but only because they were reading what the prophets had already said.

    • MikeB

      How does this position compare to historic premillennialism?
      Much of this seems to fit with what I understand of this position.

    • C Michael Patton

      Dave,

      Three things:
      1. God’s rejection of Elazar as an alternative for the blessing. Abraham proposed, since he did not have any male air from his own blood. that Elazar be the alternative. Culturally, this was sufficient, but from God’s standpoint Abraham had to have blood decendents to fulfull the covenant. Therefore, to propose a purely spiritual fulfullment, without need of blood (or literal) fulfillment in Israel would be making the same proposal as Abraham which God rejected. Anough some could say this happened in Christ, I think that Paul makes it clear in Romans nine through eleven that there is still a faithfulness from God in that Israel has not been abandoned.
      2. The seventy weeks of Daniel 9 makes much more sense when we see this in relation to Israel alone. The purpose of the seventh week is to bring Israel to into the church (as a nation). This does not mean that every Israelite will become a part of the church, but that the nation, as a whole, will morn for him whom they have peirced.
      3. Romans 11. This is probably the most significant as Paul makes clear that God will (future) graft Israel back into the olive tree (of which the Gentiles have now been made a part). This gives a definite future for the nation in and with the church.

      Even R.C. Sproul admits in his commentary on Romans that Romans 11 teaches a definite future for Israel.

    • C Michael Patton

      Mike,

      It does not have to, but more Historic Premils will be supercessionists in that the Church has replaced Israel and that Israel does not have a definite future.

      As well, I would still hold to a future tribulation. Historic Premils can as well, but they, unlike dispensationalists, do not believe that this seven year trib will be focused on bringing the nation of Israel into the fold of the church. I do.

    • C Michael Patton

      Another thing that has changed over the years is the willingness of both sides to loosen their grip on the continuity/discontinuity of salvation history.

      Progressive dispensationalists have all but let go of the trial/error thing with regard to viewing history. Dispensations do not come and go due to God’s implemintation and man’s failure, but because they are the outworking of God’s sovereign plan.

      Covanentalists are more willing to allow for the concept of “progressive revelation” (a hallmark of dispensational hermeneutics) to guide their view.

      There is so much meeting of the mind these days that it is hard to tell them apart. I remember John Piper speaking in chapel at DTS while I was there. He said that as he understand progressive dispensationalism, he feels comfortable calling himself one!

      I don’t really think so, but it does illustrate the compromises both sides have made.

    • Anselm

      I’m wondering if anyone under 50 is a dispensationalist these days? I have yet to meet one (…oh wait…i did meet one once, but besides her??) Anyone??? 😉

    • Nick Norelli

      Anselm: I just turned 29 and I’m comfortable calling myself a dispensationalist (until someone gives me good enough reason not to be). 😉

    • Anselm

      Nick…my apologies! Good reason not to be? Michael said it, I believe it and that settles (at least on everything but evolution). 😉
      But in all seriousness I do think Michael’s view is pretty well thought through.

    • Craig Hurst

      @Dave, I grew up a Ryrie Dispensationalist but since seminary I have been progressively turning Covenantalist. Some questions that I have not been able to answer yet are as follows: How did Israel understand the promises to be fulfilled in the future? How did God understand them and therefore progressively reveal them to Israel? If there was a disconnect between the two then was Israel always blinded to something which caused their rejection of Christ? Yes, Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews but if the promises were fulfilled in Christ then could Israel have ever understood the promises as God saw them when He revealed them? Of course then, you might say the Christ who was “the” promise was the final revelatory piece to make all the promises fit together and make sense but Israel was too blind to see it.

      Just some random thoughts and questions I am still struggling with.

      When I read Rom. 9-11 I do see there to be some kind of future for national Israel but in conjunction with the church as they all are the one people of God who are to bring Him glory throughout all time and to all peoples. I think Michael is onto what I have been moving towards.

    • Greg Gibson

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for taking the time to explain your views. I’d like to interact with some of your thoughts.

      There are two theological camps out there called “dispenationalists” and “covanentalists.”

      Yes, there are 2 major camps. But if you look in your rearview mirror, you’ll see New Covenant Theology rapidly approaching.

      the primary issue has to do with how you see the nation of Israel in relation to the church.

      How we view Israel and the Church will affect our eschatology, ecclesiology, and nomology. There are at least 3 views of the relationship between Israel and the Church…

      1. Paedobaptist Covenant Theologians tend to say, “The Church IS Israel.” (Church = Israel).

      2. Disp. tends to say, “The Church is NOT Israel.” (Israel does NOT = Church).

      3. NCT says, “Israel was the phsical type, and the Church is the spiritual antitype.” Israel was the picture, and the Church is the fulfillment.

      the one covenant of redemption is the central focus, not the dispensations.

      Covenant Theology (CT) tends to emphasize the Covenant of Grace (and law). Dispensationalism tends to emphasize times (and Israel). But NCT emphasizes the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ in redemptive history.

      All the OT covenants picture Him. And He fulfills all the OT covenants. He is the seed who crushes the serpent’s head. He is Abraham’s seed who blesses the Gentile nations. He is the new Prophet and Priest, and the new Moses who leads us into the promised land. And He is the new David, the King who reigns over God’s house.

      Has the Abrahamic covenant been fulfilled, forfeited, or transferred? If fulfilled, is the fulfillment literal or spiritual?

      I think(?) it’s fulfilled partially and progressively in the past, present, and future (like the parables of the leaven and mustard seed). It was fulfilled (initially) in the past by Christ the seed…

    • Greg Gibson

      It is being fulfilled progressively in the present by believers who are IN CHRIST. And it will be fulfilled completely in the future when He returns.

      God made one covenant of redemption to man that has been progressively fulfilled and understood throughout the ages by way of “installments.”

      That sounds like Covenant Theology’s Covenant of Grace. However, the Holy Spirit’s inspired words here are “plan/purpose” and “covenantS”. In other words, God made one plan/purpose in Christ in pre-historical eternity past which He revealed progressively in historical, multiple covenants.

      The church itself is a progressive extension of the covenant made to Israel…The church has not replaced Israel as a nation.

      Yes, this is not replacement theology. It’s inclusion theology, or expansion theology.

      Therefore, there is not a distinct future for the physical descendants of Abraham, but there are promises yet to be fulfilled that require the physical blood of Abraham (the natural branches) to be assumed back into the tree or (as I have put it) the umbrella (Rom. 11:17-26)…Romans 11. This is probably the most significant as Paul makes clear that God will (future) graft Israel back into the olive tree (of which the Gentiles have now been made a part). This gives a definite future for the nation in and with the church.

      Amen. “All Israel will be saved” (in the Church). We look forward to a time when physical Jews will become spiritual Jews by turning to Messiah. However I believe it’s clearer to speak of a future for “ethnic Jews,” instead of “national Israel.”

      Therefore, I am a “Progressive Covanentalist.”

      Michael, how does your view differ from Covenant Theology/historic pre-mill.?

      I think CT’s, Disp’s, and NCT’s would all agree that our system for structuring redemptive history grows out of our hermeneutic. Therefore I’d like to challenge…

    • Greg Gibson

      CT’s and Disp’s to consider applying a consistent hermeneutic…

      Paedobaptist CT uses a NT definition of eschatology, an OT definition of ecclesiology, and an OT definition of nomology.
      Reformed Baptist CT uses a NT definition of eschatology, a NT definition of ecclesiology, and an OT definition of nomology.
      Disp. uses an OT definition of eschatology, a NT definition of ecclesiology, and a NT definition of nomology.
      NCT uses a NT definition of eschatotology, a NT definition of ecclesiology, and a NT definition of nomology.

      Brothers, what we need is a consistent NT hermeneutic. The NT consistently interprets the OT. This consistent NT hermeneutic will result in a new covenant, new priest, new sacrifice, new temple, new king, new kingdom, new land, new people of God, and new law. And you will see Christ clearer and more gloriously as the star of redemptive history.

    • Hodge

      “The purpose of the seventh week is to bring Israel to into the church (as a nation).”

      I’ve never understood this point. The seventy weeks was for the purpose of exiling Israel, not bringing them back as a nation to God. It was the rejection of Israel, only after which, God would accept them. But most dispensationalists I’ve met seem to say that this piece of the exile to come is for the purpose of restoring Israel (i.e., bringing them back from exile), which is the exact opposite of its original purpose. I think it’s better to see the entire Church age as the seventieth week, which explains Israel’s distance from the Messiah for the past two thousand years; but how does a dispensationalist reconcile the purpose of the weeks with the supposed purpose of the last week in combination with Rom 9-11?

    • casey

      @Hodge,

      I assume Michael meant “seventieth” instead of “seventh” week. How can Daniel’s 70 weeks be all about exile if they don’t start until the exile is officially over? They begin with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and allow the Jewsto return from exile…after being exiled about 70 years.

      I suppose some have made the point that the Jews actually continued in exile despite the rebuilding of the nation and have remained in it since. That’s an interesting point I am too ignorant to comment on.

      Regarding the dispensational view on the 70th week and Romans 9-11, read Revelation more literally. See the 70th week as an actual seven years. See how the 144,000 distinctly Jewish witnesses testify to the nation of Israel which is ultimately redeemed at the second coming of Christ and close of the 70th week, the seven year tribulation. That is when Zechariah will be fulfilled when they will look on Him whom they pierced and they will mourn (according to dispy view).

    • Tyler

      Greg Gibson,

      Thank you for those very thoughtful posts! I found them helpful.

      I especially thought it was interesting how you laid out the different hermeneutic tendencies. I agree with pretty much all of what you said.

      I as a Reformed Baptist might fight you a little over whether OT and NT nomology are different, but I need to do some deep study of that issue soon. 🙂 The best exegesis I have read of Matthew 5:21ff supports a view of the antitheses that sees the “you have heard it said” statements as Jesus referring to popular misuse and twisting of Scripture, rather than Jesus bringing a change of the law. But I think a lot of aspects of NCT are very helpful in thinking in a Christ-centered way about the Church, the covenants, and the law.

    • Tyler

      Greg,

      I should also clarify that I of course was referring to the moral law only when I said no difference between OT and NT nomology (and I do think one can justify dividing up the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial).

    • […] as a Fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant? Posted on August 6, 2010 by T.C. R In a recent post, theo-juggernaut, Michael Patton decided to revisit the matter of […]

    • casey

      @tyler…

      About dividing up the law into moral, ceremonial and civil I know this has been around a while and at least in theory is very useful…however, I’ve heard (though have never tried) it is very difficult to actually go through all the commands and prohibitions and successfully divide them in this way. There seems to be a lot of overlapping and gray.

      I’m still learning (and have much more learning to do) but currently think of the Mosaic Law as a whole only applying to national Israel. After all it was a covenant for that largey ethnic nation that involved land. Chritianity transcends all of that. Gentiles were never bound by the Mosaic Covenant and neither is the church…none of it.

      However, the Mosaic Law had at its core the will and character of God, expressed as rules for human behavior…and these demands on human behavior are applicable to all of mankind. Two Mosaic laws sum these up as Jesus said: 1) love the Lord your God…, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.

      I realize this approach gets us to about the same position with understanding God’s moral demands (ultimately achieved in Christ), but I think its more accurate than to say that we must determine and keep only the moral components of the Mosaic Law.

    • Hodge

      Thanks Casey. Here’s where I’m getting this:

      “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy [place].” (9:24).

      Daniel’s seventy weeks are an apocalyptic interpretation of the seventy years of Jeremiah. Notice that the purpose is to finish the transgression, make an end of sin, and to make atonement for iniquity.

      What is typically done is to see the 69 weeks following as referring to this seventy weeks with one week missing (i.e., what Revelation sees as the final week). Either one must see the remainder of God’s discipline and exile of His people as until Messiah comes to destroy anti-Christ (here represented by Epiphanes) or divorce the two with the 69 weeks having nothing to do with the seventy weeks. One can also say that the making of atonement for iniquity is Christ, but how does He do that over a period of seventy weeks? It seems more likely that the atonement for iniquity is the exile/God’s discipline of His people by turning them away, calling another nation “My people” and calling Israel “not My people,” etc.

      I’m not really objecting as much as I’m trying to understand how this works out within the system.

    • Greg Gibson

      Tyler, thanks for your encouragement.

      I agree there is no difference between so-called “moral law” during the OT and NT. But I disagree with Covenant Theology’s definition of moral law as summarized by the Decalogue.

      To know what law God requires of all men, we simply need to ask, “Where does God define the sins of all men (including the Gentiles)?” He explicitly defines all humans’ sins in the sin lists for all humans (Lev. 18:1-30; Rom. 1:18-32; I Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8; Rev. 22:15; etc.). This is the so-called “moral law”, better called “conscience law”, for all men. (Notice, none of those sin lists include the Sabbath.)

      A couple clarifications…
      1. Incest may have not become a sin until after Adam’s children multiplied.
      2. Although Lev. 18 is cancelled as part of the Old Covenant, it still informs us which sins are likely written on the consciences of all men.

      As far as the 3-part division of the Mosaic Law into moral, civil, and ceremonial, that probably wasn’t invented until the 13th-century by Aquinas. Sure the Law of Moses contains different types of laws. But to claim that some types can be cancelled, while others are uncancelled seems to contradict the wholistic, indivisibile, unity of the Law in Gal. 3:10, 5:3; Jas. 2:10.

      We obey all that Christ commanded.

    • Clarence

      In response to post #9, I’m 40 and a dispensationalist. Actually more of a “soft” hyper-dispensationalist. I know of many dispensationalists under 50, we just don’t get much press!

    • casey

      Hodge…I’m probably not the best person to ask. But I was raised with the dispy view, though I’m now challenging it. Still I haven’t really looked at these passages outside the dispy box, if you will. I look forward to doing that at some point.

      But, in answer to your points, I have never heard the 70 years of Jeremiah closely connected with the 70 weeks (of years) in Daniel.

      My main point against the interpretation you offered is that it seems relatively clear to me that Daniel’s 70 weeks don’t start until Jeremiah’s 70 years are through. It satrts with the decree from Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem which allows Jews to return…exile technically over.

      I’m intrigued in how two translations known for being fairly literal translate Daniel 9:25 so diffrently it seems to demand different interpretations.

      I think its safe to say that in Dispy understanding the purposes of the 70 weeks are fulfilled in the two comings of Christ:

      “…finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness”

      could all be seen to have occurred or begin to occur in the first coming and, “to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” could only be finished in Christ’s second coming and the eschaton, along with the ultimate fulfillment of those things initiated at his first coming.

      How could vision and prophecy be sealed up before Christ even comes the first time?

    • Coffee Collection (Volume 3)…

      Some items of interest for your Friday, I hope that you enjoy! Internet Monk: Death of an Autonomist The Heidelblog: So What?  How Does Homosexual Marriage Affect Me? Steve Brown: New Creation vs New Car! The Spyglass: Homosexuality and the Challe…

    • Bill Giovannetti

      Just for fun, may I throw a third alternative into the ring? How about Dr. Walter Kaiser’s “Epangelical” approach?

      It’s where I, a lifetime dispensationalist, would hang my hat these days. I think it’s great that we can debate these things with respect and love.

      http://books.google.com/books?id=swzDVTQDDfUC&pg=PA360&lpg=PA360&dq=epangelical&source=bl&ots=6zl9Oca2oa&sig=NBl3PVUyXIlabZlMo3anP6zmaY0&hl=en&ei=alOiTKrKFIbEsAO9vY2tAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=epangelical&f=false

      Dr Bill Giovannetti

    • Lila

      I am 22 and a dispensationalist. The New covenant was made to Isreal not to Gentiles. Jesus revealed to Paul the mystery that was hid since the beginning (salvation by grace through faith to the Gentiles) And Isreal will go thru Jacobs trouble. and we will be raptured at Christs return to take our place in the heavenlies. And the New covenant will be fulfilled after Christs return.. we will not be ” a nation of kings and priests”

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