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Christianity generally accepts the Bible to be the Word of God, and the Bible itself makes this claim (i.e. 2 Peter 1:16-21).

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Yet, just because the Bible claims to be a revelation from God does not make it so, as other holy books of other religions claim to be the same.

What, then, are the primary lines of evidence that demonstrate that the Bible is, indeed, the Word of God to mankind (outside of its own claims)?

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Closely related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/5923/… If we can prove the God of the Bible then that proof - that he IS the God of the Bible, then it follows that the Bible is God's word.(otherwise, by definition, He wouldn't be the God of the Bible.) –  David Stratton Feb 11 '12 at 16:55
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Unless there is very little evidence indeed, this question is overly broad for a StackExchange site. People write entire books on this topic. Can you at least split it up into questions covering different aspects of evidence (historical, scriptural, scientific, cultural, etc.), or better yet, ask questions about each particularly good piece of evidence? –  Rex Kerr Feb 11 '12 at 20:56
    
"Scripture" is the Bible including NT? How so? Everywhere in the NT, when they say "Scripture", they of course mean (except when explicitly stated otherwise) the OT. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 9 '12 at 21:32

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

First, like @Harmen, I'd like to clarify what I mean when I say the Bible is God's word. From there, I can get to a better answer to your question.

What does the statement "The Bible is God's Word" mean?

The traditional Evangelical view in the Scripture as God's word is that it was inspired by God. The actual term used is "God-Breathed". Further clarification on this statement is taken from truthnet.org.

The Bible was written under “Inspiration” from the Holy Spirit. The word inspire is dervived from the latin word “inspirare” meaning “To breathe upon or into something”. God revealed Himself through individuals to speak to a much larger audience. In the same way some one would pick up a pen. The pen would becomes the tool in the hand of the writer, the prophet is God’s pen in revelation.

The Bible is a collection of books. As the prophets received revelation the books were colleceted in manuscript1 form. The orginal manuscript, written by the prophet is known as the autograph. The autograph is inspired by God from the first generation. The autograph is then copied to additional manuscripts. As the manuscripts wear out over time from use and enviroment the manuscript is again copied onto a new scroll. This process of copying the old manuscript to a new manuscript is known as manuscript transmission. Over a period of time the manuscripts from accepted prophets were collected. This collection of manuscripts is known to us as the Bible.


What evidence exists to support the statement that the Bible is God's Word?

In the book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh Mc Dowell notes that if God created man with a desire to know Him, we would expect His message to have some unique properties:

  • It would be widely distributed so man could attain it easily
  • It would be preserved through time without corruption
  • It would be completely accurate historically.
  • It would not be prone to scientific error or false beliefs held by the people of that time.
  • It would present true, unified answers to the difficult questions of life.

The Bible stands alone as the only religious text that can claim it meets all the above criteria.

Test 1:

The first qualification listed above is any message from the Creator would have to distribute His message to a wide audience. The Bible is next to none in this test. It is the most published book in history, with the widest distribution of any published work. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. It is the most sold book in history. It was the first book published with moveable type. It is still the #1 best seller of any book. Now, none of these feats prove that the Bible was inspired. They are, however, consistent with what we would expect of God's message if He were trying to let us know about Himself and His plan for us. In other words, one cannot disqualify the Bible on this point. Many other ancient writings fall short, but it behaves as we would expect.

Test 2:

The Bible has orders of magnitude more manuscript evidence, supporting the fact that it has been preserved though history, than any other book in antiquity. More can be found here.

Test 3:

Extra-Biblical accounts of history and supporting archaeological discovers confirm a great deal of what's in the Bible. More can be found here.

Test 4:

Of course, there's little agreement on one of the big issues - Young-Earth Creation vs. Old-Earth Creation vs. Evolution, so I won't even both trying to use that. The evidence that exists can be used to support any view if you twist it enough. However, aside from that, the Bible does outline medical wisdom that is far ahead of it's time.

Again, from here:

When Genesis was written, The Greeks were beginning to tell of Apollos' flight across the sky in a flaming chariot. The Egyptians were worshipping the sun as Ra, deifying it. The Mesopotamians referred to the sun as "Shamosh" and called it the god of justice. Genesis, however, calls the sun "a light in the expanse of the heavens" and views it as a thing, one created by God. That the Bible does not follow the naiveté of those ancient religions is often overlooked, since modern man is much more knowledgeable in the mechanics of nature. We take for granted that someone touching an infectious person or a corpse should practice good hygiene and wash thoroughly in running water before proceeding to anything else, but this "discovery" has only been a medical reality for 150 years. The book of Leviticus, though, requires this same procedure.

One cannot find ideas as arcane as blood-letting or consuming ram's horn for fertility, or all the other mythical cures for ills that were thought to be science in those days. The Bible is not a science book. It does not focus on scientific facts about the creation, but where it mentions those things, it is accurate in its representation. This is exactly what we'd expect if the Bible had its origin in the One who created the universe and its scientific laws.

There's also a neat little chart showing Biblical teachings compared to the "science" of the time here.

Test 5, from the same source as above:

Thus far we have examined several evidences of the accuracy and the reliability of the Bible by comparing it to outside sources and what we know is true. Now, I'd like to turn our attention to the text of the Bible itself to show how it validates itself as the word of God. Again, I remind you that we have a collection of different documents that were written over one and a half millennium, that are devoted to discussing the most controversial and emotionally charged topics man has known. The incredible thing is that they all agree. Taken together, the Bible presents a single, unified message of actions and attitudes by which man can live. This is an unprecedented feat.

To have sixty six books written by about forty authors, from kings and nobles to fishermen and soldiers, in three languages and on three continents, be of the same mind is just not humanly possible. Why, the editorial writers in our newspapers can't even agree when they come from the same culture and similar educational backgrounds.

To demonstrate the remarkability of this accomplishment, we can propose an experiment. Imagine a classroom of thirty students at the high-school level. The teacher has decided on the class writing a novel for a class project. Each student will be assigned one chapter and they will then gather the papers together to assemble the finished work. The topic chosen is "Why God is important in man's life," but there is no outline and there are no rules as to what that statement means. Because the students are all the same age and live in the same area at the same point in time, they have a tremendous advantage over the Biblical writers, but to expect a congruent work is ridiculous. The fact that the Bible is a unified message shows that its origin comes from beyond man.

Because the Bible claims it is the word of God, it requires of itself a stricter assessment. The Old Testament is filled with the authoritative phrase "Thus sayeth the LORD" . The fact that men recognized it from the time it was first penned as authoritative gives it a measure of strength. The laws that were required of the Jews were very arduous. Because they chose to accept them as commandments from God before any significant length of time had elapsed to mythicalize them shows that the people believed with their lives that these documents were from God. Jesus Himself validates the Old Testament by regarding it as the word of God and authoritative in all things

Also, not mentioned in the tests from Josh McDowell, there's the test of prophecy.

The Bible contains many prophecies, some made hundreds of years before they were fulfilled. Many of these are very specific, not vague statements like the ones you see from Nostradamus, for example.

A few, with probability calculations are presented here.


Finally, none of this constitutes absolute proof, and atheists and non-Judeo-Christians have been arguing against all of this evidence for years. The idea that there would be people that scoff at the Biblical account of creation and the flood, for example, is even predicted in 2 Peter 3.

2 Peter 3:3-7 (KJV)

3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

This, of course, is perfectly in harmony with Jesus' teaching in the book of John 3 (Also KJV).

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

In short, no amount of evidence is going to be enough to prove the Bible's truth, that it's God's Word, or even the existence of God to those that simply don't want to believe. The evidence is there, it's up to each of us to determine whether we're convinced by it, and how we want to respond to it.

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Most commonly used argument for Bible being the Word of God is circular, and could be boiled down to:

Bible is the true Word of God because God said so in the Bible.

Which serves only as a proof if one already believes everything in the Bible to be true.

Other evidence for Bible being the Word of God include its alleged hidden prophecies about forming of the state of Israel, but many people dismiss this as evidence because the prophecies weren't "decoded" until after the fact. It is similar to problem with Nostradamus' prophecies - there is no way to invalidate them, therefore they are not proofs of anything. If someone says something will happen at some time in the future, one just needs to wait sufficiently long until something similar happens and claim it was the fulfilled prophecy.

Other people claim special insight of the Bible about the world that proves it. Those include shape of the earth, water currents, topology of the ocean and many more (this site seems to be a good reference). Similar claims are made for Koran and seven layers of the sky, formation of babies and so forth. As many of such passages have to be interpreted the right way to show the validity of their statements, one can argue the validity of such claims. However, if one contrasts those few statements with many statements that were proven to be wrong (illness caused by bad emotions, cure for leprosy being a ritual of sprinkling blood of a bird and so forth), it turns into evidence against divine origins of the Bible.

So in the end, arguments for Bible being the inspired Word of God are found by many people looking for them, but they don't hold up after rigorous scrutiny of skeptics.

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I like this contribution very much, especially this: "As many of such passages have to be interpreted the right way to show the validity of their statements, one can argue the validity of such claims". You might want to add that the justification of a single passage of a book (for instance, the historical correctness of slavery in Egypt), doesn't guarantee the correctness of any other book. Clearly, the story of Noah's ark is unrelated to a moralistic letter of Paul –  Harmen Feb 11 '12 at 20:44
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Except, of course, that Paul references the flood as a historical fact, and uses Noah as an example to clarify doctrine, that is... Hebrews 11:7 (although the authorship is in question). The point is, the books are related, topically and doctrinally, they complement each other and together bring understanding. All doctrine goes back to some principle found in Genesis, for example. –  David Stratton Feb 11 '12 at 22:19
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@AffableGeek I prefer to answer questions from a skeptic viewpoint, as this allows me to be as objective as possible. This way giving arguments both for and against any particular claim can give a broader scope on the matter. As for "having an axe with Christians", I don't tend to judge people based on who they are, but rather by what they do. Since "christian" is rather a blanket term for 38,000 denominations, it would be quite hard to judge them all together. Guess what can annoy some people here is my tendency to ask taboo questions as a skeptic. –  ThePiachu Feb 11 '12 at 23:31
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@thepiachu also, I'm not annoyed by your questions, only by the fact that you are not stayingon topic for this site. We are scholars on this site, and we play by certain rules. I wouldn't enter a biology classroom and start saying the professor is stupid for ignoring all the evidence from Scripture. On this site, we are looking for knowledge exchange about Christianity, not attempts to pick fights by people who aren't willing to be convinced by reason, experience, scripture, or tradition. Please read the FAQ. We're not here to silence dissent, but we expect you to be respectful. –  Affable Geek Feb 12 '12 at 3:24
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@AffableGeek - Attraction and pair-bonding in humans is indeed studied scientifically, and there are some remarkably interesting findings (see oxytocin, vasopressin, etc.). This is tangential to the points here, but it seemed a sufficiently large error to be worth correcting. –  Rex Kerr Feb 12 '12 at 4:23

One of the old saws often bandied about in all theological sources is the "four sources of theology": Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. What we don't often say is that all four sources inform each other as much as they stand alone.

In the case of determining what is Scripture, we actually rely mostly on tradition, plus some reason and experience, if for no other reason than we want to avoid a circle of self-referential authority.

Tradition

Remember that there was no authority that ever said "these are the inspired books, these are not" when determining the canon of Scripture, especially in regards to the New Testament. What we do have is the consensus of a Christian tradition that, over the course of centuries, has winnowed out the chaff. We rely on Christians who have gone before us to say, "these are the words that we're most sure come directly from God."

Why should I listen to Origen, Polycarp, Justin Marytr, John Chrysostm, and Athanasius when it comes to determining what's in my Bible? Because traditionally people have seen these men as great men of God, and these men say these Words come from God. By the same token, very few of us have ever spoken with any of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution, but traditionally we respect their ideas when it comes to good government in the US. Why? Because people we trust trusted them. Over time, we have accepted the tradition that George Mason and John Madison and more to be trusted then say, Benedict Arnold, (or even Thomas Hobbes!) when it comes to choosing what is good for our government.

We also have agreed that the books of the New Testament, at least, should have been written by (or at least traditionally accepted to be written by) eyewitnesses and disciples of Jesus, hence the inclusion of books by Peter (including Mark, 1 & 2 Peter), Matthew (a disciple), John (a disciple), James ( a brother of Jesus), Jude (written by a disciple), and Paul (who saw Jesus whilest on the road to Damascus, and whose companion Luke, wrote one Gospel and Acts).

Reason

Reason also backs up the choices made in determining Scripture. There are also several philosophical arguments that have been made over the years that support the thrusts of the selected books.

One of the most interesting, IMHO, comes from Ludwig Wittgenstein who suggests that Christianity is a game of language in the same way that football is a game with a round spherical object. In both cases, there are sets of internal rules without which the thing does not make sense, but within which, gives meaning to all actions.

Indeed, I'm purposely vague in calling out the sport of football. After all, what does "touchdown" mean when referring to the sport in which you use your feet to kick the ball! But within what Americans call "soccer" there exists an whole universe of meaningful statements that affect how we make sense of what occurs on that field - what makes for "good" and "bad"; what constitutes intelligence and practice, what is merely bad acting (Maradonna, I'm looking at you!). What we call "soccer" shapes our understanding, and in turn is reshaped when we put on our kleets and head out on the field.

One could imagine a religion called "Christianity" based on different books, but it wouldn't mean the same thing. We exist within a set of books that shapes our world view (and I'd argue to a world view that positively transformed the world because of what it says) and that in turn shapes us. Indeed, the fact that some books are considered Scripture by some groups (e.g. deuterocanonicals by Catholics) shapes their worldviews slightly differently than Protestants. The fact that the Book of Mormon is perceived as much further away philosophically than the accepted canon by other groups, leads many of those groups to view Mormons as much further away from Christianity as a result. On the flipside, Mormons see no incongruities, and as such, think it unfair to be considered out of step with Mainstream Christianity.

What we as Christians call "God" is thus defined by Scripture. Now, that same Scripture says that God is "exceedingly abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine," which leads me to suspect that the same God was thus complicit in its revelation - but that's precisely where we veer out of realm of the discussion that makes sense outside of the language game.

Notice this argument purposely sidesteps God, not because I don't believe him to be the author, but because it doesn't communicate the validity of Scripture to those who don't already accept it - and that brings me to the last "evidence" that the Bible is the Word of God.

Experience

On a simple level, much of the proscribed behavior of the Bible has been shown to positively affect the lives of those who follow it. Most Christians become Christians in the same way that Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. He simply said, "Come and See." The Benedictines used that as their motto too. It is usually only when our experience shows us the benefits of the Bible that we attend to it as we ought.

Is it the common experience of people to see Christians who are utterly transformed by Scripture? Of course not. One of the reasons that Christianity often feels like it is declining is because this external evidence is becoming that much more rare. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in What's Wrong with the World, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

But, going back to where I began - I firmly believe that where Scripture has been imbued, it has changed things. Abolition was unthinkable without Quakers and religious men like William Wilberforce. Civil Rights without a Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King is not (and I argue could not be) secular. The Science of religious men like Gregor Mendel and Michael Faraday - or even a Roger Bacon, developed within this body of Scripture. And, the lives of the Mother Teresas and Billy Grahams of this world prove it to me as well. When the Dietrich Bonhoeffers of the world are merely the most recent in a line of martyrs that goes back to Peter, for the notion that these words are the words of God, it makes me stand up and take notice as well.

Is it an iron clad case? No. But is it evidence? Oh yeah.

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Can't most if not all of the cases presented in your answer be made for most holy books, not just the Bible? –  ThePiachu Feb 12 '12 at 5:36
    
No to the length of development, and no to specifically the advances in Civil Rights and Wesrern Science. –  Affable Geek Feb 12 '12 at 13:21
    
Plus, the rules of language explicitly make comparisons to other holy books irrelevant for purposes of the question and site. –  Affable Geek Feb 12 '12 at 13:34
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As a Catholic, I'd spend the time making the that the self-referential authority is only self-referential insofar as it is a spiral going up to God. The only gripe I'd have with this answer is it doesn't try to answer the supernatural part of the question. Maybe the answer is simply faith, the evidence of things unseen. –  Peter Turner Feb 13 '12 at 19:43
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Your last paragraph could be improved, IMO. It is not reasonable to claim that Christianity was entirely behind the abolition of the slavery that was endorsed by .... Christianity. A great many free-thinkers were involved too (Thomas Paine for example). Indeed, many of King's inner circle were secular communists (see: Taylor Branch). Teresa's work is still riddled with controversy in many different ways (not least, with claims of deliberate financial irregularities, to the detriment of the terminally ill). It is... perhaps not as simple and clear as presented... –  Marc Gravell Feb 13 '12 at 19:49

The entire Bible is inspired by God:

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

Jesus was very fluent in reading/writing scripture, yet, He in His own wisdom, thought it fit that his followers write these Gospels after his death. As such Bible through the inspiration of Holy Spirit is the revealed truth from God Himself and it includes the teachings of Jesus(who Himself is God) during His ministry which later on, inspired by Holy Spirit, were written down in four Gospels, acts and epistles by His followers. As such it is tantamount to the Word of God.

This was clearly told by Jesus:

John 16:12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 16:14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.

There was no need for God to reveal the Bible content to Jesus, as Jesus Himself was God Incarnate and as such the source of everything

But the next question definitely comes to mind is why four Gospels? As it would be a long answer I have answered it separately here. But briefly:

God used human authors with different backgrounds and personalities to accomplish His purposes through their writing. Each of the gospel authors had a distinct purpose behind his gospel and in carrying out those purposes, each emphasized different aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet all the four Gospels are perfectly harmonious.

Historical authenticity: About historicity of Bible a lot of matter is available on this site already and I would append it with this.

Like any other historical writings there are no original documents of Bible in our possession. During its nascent years, Christianity was subjected to intense persecution. All the worldly forces were trying to wipe out Christianity by persecution and destroying all their literature. All that we have today has passed through a most turbulent period and has survived under most cruel persecution. In spite of this, we find that there are various shreds of manuscripts of NT as far as from 65AD, which is the earliest. Some information is posted here on this site.

By the time Christians could live a serene living under a favourable reigning emperor, all present day Gospels were already in use, as independent books long before they were canonised in a favourable time under a favourable reigning emperor. As seen from the table below we find that evidence for historical authenticity of New Testament is much stronger than any of the other historical books with no attempts of suppression.

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Apart from this shortest timeline for the earliest copy, there are other numerous external written sources to collaborate the historical authenticity of New Testament.

Then there are some who are casting doubt on the authorship of Bible books. To summarise from this answer, the two of the gospels are ascribed to such minor characters as Mark and Luke -- neither of whom, by any accounts, were themselves neither disciples nor the eyewitnesses is solid indirect clue they were who they were. If early Christian evangelist wanted to acquire credibility for what they were writing (or forging as some claim) and preaching they would undoubtedly have attributed it to someone like Peter, Thomas or James. And precisely this was what the later second and third century Gnostic gospels did.

Further there has never been an attempt to edit or revise any of the Gospel accounts over the years nor is there any historical evidence of any attempt to concise these four gospels in to one book and say that it was written or dictated by Jesus himself. Contrary to this, there are some who claim that their scripture is directly handed down by God in physical form from heaven. However when we dig out the history, it reveals that there were authorised exercise undertaken spanning over many years, to standardise its content under different authorities, when finally the present day standardised version were accepted.

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Let me try to make clear that the terminology Word of God, despite the frequent use of it, is more or less meaningless.

Firstly, a claim of the Bible about its reliability wouldn't only make sense because it's a circular argument, but also because the Bible as we know it was bundled together many years later in 393 AD.

Of course one could reply that God inspired the Synod of Hippo, to only approve divinely inspired books to be part of the canon. Yet Martin Luther, for instance, denied that the Epistle of James 'was the work of an apostle and termed it an "epistle of straw" as compared to some other books in the New Testament'. Also people have been arguing about the reliability of the Book of Revelation (I haven't found a reference for this, but I'm pretty convinced there is).

So, even if the Bible were to be the Word of God, we are left with our interpretation of it. Luther's interpretation of the Epistle of James made him think it could not have been written by James, for instance. Is there any evidence for that claim? As we cannot ask James in person and as theologians disagree, we have to judge for ourselves.

Note that this doesn't imply that all of a sudden all books of the Bible lose their reliability.

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The first reference to the current canon is the Festal Letter of 367 (with some variation), and the Synod of Hippo in 393 was only one of many to tackle canonicity. –  Affable Geek Feb 11 '12 at 22:07
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@AffableGeek I'm not a theologian or historian, so it's no wonder I made an error there. However, I referred to it to show that 2 things. 1) A book that claims it is reliable doesn't refer to the Bible as we have it. 2) The development of the canon has been a process, in which humans have discussed whether or not a book should be included. And discussion implies arguments and maybe even voting. –  Harmen Feb 12 '12 at 0:30

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