The Bible on Diet and Health
Healing and health are separate, though related issues. When our bodies break down, naturally we want our health back, but isn't there a way to stay in health and avoid physical illnesses in the first place? Indeed there is - and the Bible has a lot to say about it! What it has to say about diet may also surprise you.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:7-8
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
Biblical Wisdom Concerning Diet
1. Exercise moderation (not total abstinence) with sweets. Learn to quit when you have had enough. What is "enough"? Listen to your body - you give it food; it gives you "feed-back."
If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it. Proverbs 25:16
It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one's own glory. A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:27-28
One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet. Proverbs 27:7
2. Exercise moderation with wine and oils. Nowhere in scripture is drinking wine condemned - on the contrary it is at times recommended (see Paul's advice to Timothy). What scripture consistently condemns is drunkenness - the immoderate, excessive use of wine which actually abuses God's good gift.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart. Psalms 104:14-15
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Proverbs 23:29-30
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Timothy 5:23-24 ESV
3. The oil that is mentioned is olive oil which was plentiful and widely used. Oil stands in as a symbol for prepared meals, as distinct from fruit, for instance, which can be plucked and eaten with no preparation. Oil makes for a "richer" meal - a meal more like a rich person can afford. But if you can't afford it, then exercise moderation! Keep in mind that none of their "prepared food" would have had any of our modern preservatives or additives.
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. Proverbs 21:17
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it. Proverbs 21:20
4. The Bible is big on moderation. Gluttony is condemned; moderation is praised. Self control is a fruit of the Spirit. We are to crucify the craving of the flesh to over-indulge in anything.
But all things should be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Philippians 4:8 KJV
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. Proverbs 23:20-21
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24
The Old Testament Period
1. Dietary concerns were addressed after the Flood. By the Lord's command we are allowed, even encouraged to eat meat, even red meat. This command came in after the flood. It may be that prior to the flood, people were vegetarians, but this is an inference drawn from the text cited below, not a necessary conclusion. There is nothing (I have found so far) in scripture to clarify this point one way or the other. What matters for us, of course, is what those who come after the flood are required or invited to do, since we cannot go back to either the Garden or post-Garden pre-flood conditions.
The one stipulation is that we are not to eat flesh with its blood - the blood must be drained from the animal during slaughter and preparation for eating. This command may seem minor, but it is repeated three times by the Early Church as a dietary restriction that is still in force for Gentile believers.
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Genesis 9:1-4
2. Dietary concerns were also addressed on entering the Promised Land. Note the restrictions placed upon meat offered for sacrificial purposes and the contrasting freedom given to eat meat at home - "as much as you desire." Did the Lord know what our modern day "experts" believe they have discovered about "how bad it is" to eat red meat or any meat? Of course He did and does - nothing is hidden from Him! But who has the actual truth and wisdom? Who knows our bodies best and cares the most about what is healthy for us? Note once again that there is a restriction against eating any meat without the blood having been drained from it.
Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. "However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. The unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the deer. Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. Deuteronomy 12:13-15
When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, 'I will eat meat,' because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire. If the place that the Lord your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire. Just as the gazelle or the deer is eaten, so you may eat of it. The unclean and the clean alike may eat of it. Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. Deuteronomy 12:20-25
3. Under the Law certain foods were forbidden. This brings us to the well-known restrictions placed upon the Jewish people under the conditions of their "new" covenant with God. Certain animals of the land, sea and air are declared "unclean" and not to be eaten under any circumstances. Why? For health concerns? Out of concern for ceremonial purity? As a sign of their being set apart - "for you are a holy people"? As a test of their obedience? We are not given a full explanation. We are told only that these animals are "abominations" and are therefore "unclean" and cannot be eaten by these Jewish believers - as a condition of their covenant with God.
If you are a Gentile Christian, this hardly matters for you as the decision of the Early Church makes plain - we are not under "the yoke" of these regulations. On the other hand, do these stipulations remain in force for Jewish believers, even Jewish-Christian believers? That is a very interesting question and doesn't seem (to me) to be fully settled one way or the other in the New Testament.
"You shall not eat any abomination. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. "Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you. "You may eat all clean birds. But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind; every raven of any kind; the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. All clean winged things you may eat. You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. Deuteronomy 14:3-21
The New Testament Period
1. The end to the dietary restrictions of the Old Covenant began with this teaching of Jesus. It is a clear statement that "nothing that enters a man from the outside" can defile us. At the very least He is removing food (our dietary choices) from having a spiritual value, since no food enters the heart. Those who promote the idea that it is more spiritual to eat or not eat certain foods are doing so in contradiction to this clear statement from Jesus. It is possible to conclude from this that the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament are being removed through His life and ministry, which is exactly what the inspired writer of the gospel inserted into the text in parenthesis ("Thus He declared all foods clean"). Nevertheless, that case will be made even more solidly later in the Book of Acts.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:14-23
2. Peter's famous vision is repeated three times - a clear indication to Him and to us of its importance. In the vision Peter is commanded to "kill and eat" all manner of food which he had previously (as a good, observant, "Old Covenant" believer) abstained from eating. However, according to the vision the conditions have changed. All foods are now being declared to be clean - "What God has made clean, do not call common." This indicates that God has done something to make clean what once had been "an abomination."
Was the curse upon "unclean" creatures (they are an "abomination") a part of the larger curse that came upon all of creation through Adam in Genesis 3? Was it God's work through the atoning death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that has made this change come about? We are not told, but it seems a fair conclusion, since Peter is the one chosen by Jesus to be the leader of those who would come to faith through Him. Now Peter is being shown a further outworking of the cross and resurrection, presumably to share with others in his role as their recognized leader. He understands by the vision that this means that Gentiles, formerly "unclean" and outside of the covenant, are now to be allowed in the fellowship of believers.
Some have argued that this inference of Peter (that Gentiles are no longer to be considered unclean) is the only interpretation of the vision that is valid. That argument falls apart when placed against the teaching of Jesus and of the gospel writer cited above: Peter's vision is a dramatic representation of the new reality that both Jesus and the gospel writer were expressing.
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:9-16
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has made clean, do not call common.' This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:1-18
3. What should Gentile Christians eat? The issue of whether or not the Hebrew scripture (Old Covenant) restrictions applied to new, Gentile believers continued to vex the early church. Paul saw need to carry the question to the leadership in Jerusalem. After hearing all sides, James (the Lord's brother) spoke for the united council. The only dietary restrictions would be for Gentile believers to refrain from eating foods offered to idols (and later sold in the meat market of that temple), things strangled and from meat that had not had the blood properly drained from it (these last two go together, since slaughtering an animal by strangulation traps the blood in its carcass).
Once again, we are treated to a three-fold repetition in scripture, clearly indicating the importance of this decree: We see the command agreed upon, sent as a letter to the Gentile churches, then recounted by James much later when Paul returned to Jerusalem to under a cloud of controversy.
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues." Acts 15:19-21
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." Acts 15:28-29
But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." Acts 21:25
4. The controversy over diet was hard to stop. In the letter to the Galatians Paul tells how he had to oppose Peter, because Peter was evidently "backsliding" on the agreement reached by the council at Jerusalem and against the revelation he had received by his own vision. Paul evidently believed that Peter was caving in to pressure from "the circumcision party" - a legalistic group who apparently sought to impose the whole of Old Covenant restrictions upon all believers, both Jewish and Gentile.
Refusing to eat with the Gentiles indicates that Peter was abstaining from fellowshipping with them as full-fledged believers (even though they had not been circumcised). It also seems to indicate that he was abstaining from eating the food they were eating - treating their food as if it were "unclean." This can only be inferred from the passage - it is not sufficiently clear on that point.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Paul utterly rejected what Peter was doing as well as the position the "Judaizers" were taking. It was hypocrisy and it was not in accord with the gospel. This shows us how much pressure there was - even then - to place restrictions on diet and how determined Paul was not to let even this breach of liberty in Christ go unopposed.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Galatians 2:11-14
The Example of Jesus
Whatever was OK for Jesus, is surely fine for us. He is our greatest Example for how to live. Certainly, He practiced moderation and never sinned by gluttony and drunkenness, but that didn't stop people from trying to impose on Him their own ideas about diet and alcohol! He warned that what people did to Him, they would certainly try to do to His followers.
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." Luke 7:33-35
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast." So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now." This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:6-11
Controversy over Ritually Impure Food
1. The general principle Paul states here applies to many things. There are all kinds of decisions we are free to make and the key is being "fully convinced" in our own mind that we are doing right in God's sight based on what we believe He has shown us to be right for us. Unfortunately, there is a strong tendency to want to make these personal decisions a general rule for everyone to follow and to try to make it seem that even God is behind our set of rules. Paul will have none of that! Just act according to your own best understanding and conscience and let others be free to sort things out for themselves.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Romans 14:1-6
2. Paul's own view is that "nothing is unclean in itself." Yet, even in this, he is not seeking to make his understanding a rule for everyone else to follow. He goes on to say that we should be careful to avoid flaunting our freedom in the face of people who have other beliefs. Does that mean we should never eat meat or drink wine - because some believers would be grieved to see us do it? Certainly not! He cannot be saying that it is right to do what Peter did, because he himself felt compelled to rebuke Peter to his face for abandoning his principles.
There is a difference between Christians who, like the Judiazers, try to impose on others their own narrow, legalistic view - they are to be stoutly resisted. However, there are others, weak in their convictions, who might easily fall into misunderstanding and sin by eating meat (for instance) when they have not fully resolved their own doubts about it. Be circumspect around them.
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil… Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:14-16; 20-23
"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience - I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 1 Corinthians 10:23-30
Admonitions Against Restrictions on Diet
Jesus began the release of diet from the restrictions of the Old Covenant period. Paul carries this liberation into other areas as well, adding in festival celebrations. The principle Jesus inaugurated is that nothing of the body affects your spiritual health, unless of course you use your body to sin. The things we eat or drink, or refrain from eating and drinking, have zero spiritual value one way or the other. It is what goes into the heart and what comes out of the heart - that's the real issue (Proverbs 4:23). Paul is simply expanding on the teaching of Jesus. He adds that teaching intended to restrict our lawful liberty in Christ to eat and drink actually have no value to stop "the indulgence of the flesh." It has long been observed that legalism works for some, but produces backsliding (over-indulging the flesh) in others.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations - "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" ( referring to things that all perish as they are used) - according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-23
A Warning Against Deception
I have included the King James Version and Strong's Concordance with this passage, because it speaks so strongly against promoting abstinence from certain foods. According to Paul, this is actually one of the signs of Last Days deceptions! Evidently, the Holy Spirit wanted this warning to us included in the New Testament. What foods in particular will we be told to abstain from? Meats. Take this warning and do whatever you like with it. Personally, I find it curious that at a time when so many believers are convinced that our Lord's return is drawing near, vegetarianism is being widely promoted on the earth - just as the scriptures predicted!
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats,* which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 KJV
*NT:1033 broma (bro'-mah); from the base of NT:977; food (literally or figuratively), especially (ceremonially) articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law:** KJV-meat, victuals. **Note: Meats were the primary food group addressed by the ceremonial laws.
Even the unknown writer of Hebrews weighs in: Don't be led away by "diverse and strange" teachings about food - this has no real benefit! The New Testament rule remains. Eat anything you like, so long as your conscience is clear about it; keep to the one rule of moderation; and don't be a busybody about what other people are putting on their plates!
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. Hebrews 13:9-10
The Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper became a source of concern, not as a dietary issue, but as one of hospitality. Evidently some people were providing themselves with a full meal at a time when Communion was being shared. Yet, they weren't sharing their excess of food with those around them who had nothing to eat other than the bread or wine being distributed. This is the same concern we saw earlier (Romans 14) for the detrimental effect that our actions, even our freedom in Christ, can have on others "in the Body." In this situation the inappropriate feasting by some of the Corinthians had a detrimental effect on their physical health - not just their spiritual well-being.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another - if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home - so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 ESV
Next Healing Essential
Emotional Healing Both Solomon and Jesus declare that the important issues of life flow out from the depths of our hearts. Practically all of us carry stuff from our past which can spill over and influence, even control, the new life that Jesus wants to give us. Emotions that overwhelm us in the present (like fear, anxiety, hurt feelings, anger, depression, etc.) are things God wants to free us from. Go for this glorious liberty!
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