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Does the Book of Mormon Teach the 'Fulness of the Gospel'?
Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon contained the fullness of the gospel. If that's true, then how come most unique LDS doctrines aren't in it?
W. John Walsh
Michael B. Parker
by W. John Walsh
The scriptures teach that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
"And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel." (1)
"Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel..." (2)
Please note that the scriptures teach that the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel, not the fullness of gospel doctrine. What is the gospel? The word gospel means "good tidings from God" or "God-story." (3) What are these good tidings from God? The good tidings are that by coming unto Christ, a person may be saved from death and hell. The Book of Mormon does a better job of clearly explaining how a person comes unto Christ than any other book. Therefore, while the Book of Mormon may not teach every nuance of gospel doctrine, it does teach the fullness of the gospel. The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) noted:
"Although Latter-day Saints frequently use the term gospel to refer to the whole body of truth to be learned through the restored Church, this is not the real meaning of the term. The gospel is the "good news" of Christ's atonement, and its first principles are faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. This is the definition followed in the Book of Mormon as well as in the Doctrine and Covenants and other inspired sources, as in 1 Nephi 10:14; 15:1314; 3 Nephi 27:1321; Ether 4:18; D&C 3:20; 13:1; 20:9; 27:5 and so on. D&C 93:51 uses the term the gospel of salvation, while Abraham 2:11 speaks of "the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal." In Jacob 7:6 the gospel is defined as "the doctrine of Christ," referring to the doctrine concerning Christ's death, atonement, and resurrection to provide the means by which we can be saved from death, sin, and hell. This reference was before the Savior lived on earth in the flesh, thus it did not refer to the totality of what he would teach. Elsewhere the Book of Mormon equates the "fulness of the gospel" with coming "to the knowledge of the true Messiah" (1 Nephi 10:14; 15:1314; 3 Nephi 20:3031). The Book of Mormon contains the most lucid explanation of the atonement of Christ and its consequences for humans (see especially 2 Nephi 2, 9; Mosiah 15; Alma 34, 42) and therefore qualifies as containing "the fulness of the gospel." (4)
(See Fullness of the Gospel; The True Points of My Doctrine for an essay demonstrating exactly how the Book of Mormon teaches the Fullness of the Gospel.)
1. D&C 42:12
2. D&C 27:5
3. McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, p. 331
4. Unpublished manuscript. For more informations on FARMS, see http://farms.byu.edu/main_IE4.htm.
by Michael B. Parker
In a revelation given in 1830, the Lord declared that he had given Joseph Smith "power from on high . . . to translate the Book of Mormon; which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also" (D&C 20:8-9).
This statement has confused some Latter-day Saints and, occasionally, given rise to criticism from those outside the Church. "How," they ask, "could the Book of Mormon contain the 'fulness of the gospel' when it doesn't contain a number of unique LDS doctrines?"
"Doctor" Walter Martin, a long-time gainsayer of the LDS Church, summarized this criticism by writing:
|We are consistently taught that The Book of Mormon is the "most correct
book" and that it contains the truth, the Word of God, and the fullness [sic]
of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 19:26; 20:9; 27:5; 42:12; 135:3). Exactly where in
The Book of Mormon are the following doctrines or concepts taught?
The following is a response to Martin's question. I pray this paper will prompt you, the reader, to further study the Book of Mormon and apply its teachings in your life.
In this response, I will demonstrate:
Walter Martin's Expectations of the Book of Mormon
"We are consistently taught that The Book of Mormon is the 'most correct book' . . ."
"Dr." Martin is referring to Joseph Smith's claim that
. . . the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.2
Martin apparently interprets "the most correct of any book of earth" to mean "the most comprehensive of any book on earth," when correctness and comprehensiveness are obviously two separate concepts.
The statement "the earth revolves around the sun" is correct, but not comprehensive. It states a simple truth without delving into the complex and differing astronomical theories of Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler.
Similarly, the Book of Mormon is correct in the doctrines and principles it teaches, but it does not claim to contain all truth. Its own self-described purpose is to "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title page), and that these teachings are "plain and precious" (1 Nephi 13:35, 40; 19:3). For the most part, the Book of Mormon does not concern itself with the deeper mysteries of God.3
The Book of Mormon is "the most correct of any book on earth," but certainly not comprehensive.
"We are consistently taught that The Book of Mormon . . . contains . . . the fullness [sic] of the gospel."
For reasons he leaves unexplained, "Dr." Martin apparently thinks that the "fullness [sic] of the gospel" is his eighteen-point list of doctrines. But is it?
The Book of Mormon answers this question by explaining what "the gospel" is. Jesus Christ, in his visit to the Nephites, explained:
Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the
gospel which I have given unto youthat I came into the world to do the will
of my Father, because my Father sent me.
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. (3 Nephi 27:13-19, italics added.)
In this passage, Jesus defines "the gospel" as:
This is "the gospel." The Book of Mormon teaches these concepts with a plainness and clarity unequaled by any other book. It has therefore been declared by the Lord to contain "the fulness of the gospel."
There are, of course, many ancillary doctrines and truths the Lord would like us to know,3a many of which are in Martin's list. But the primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ,4 is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. This is the message of the Book of Mormon.
Does the Book of Mormon Contain the Doctrines and Concepts in Walter Martin's List?
Walter Martin apparently prided himself on his understanding of "Mormonism" and the Book of Mormon. This list, however, betrays his lack of serious study of Mormon scripture. Many of the eighteen items are described, or at least hinted at, in the Book of Mormon.
"God has a body of flesh and bones."
Perhaps the Book of Mormon is not as straightforward about this subject as Martin would like. He may have been looking for a statement similar to the one in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's." While the Book of Mormon lacks such a statement, it does describe the relationship between the physical appearance of men and God.
The Genesis account of the creation explains that "God created man in his own image" (1:27). Most Christians would follow this prominent scholar by interpreting "in his own image" as:
The likeness to God lies in the mental and moral features of man's character, such as reason, personality, free will, the capacity for communion with God.5
The Book of Mormon, however, explains:
. . . [Christ] should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth. (Mosiah 7:27, italics added.)
The quoted passage in Mosiah clarifies the meaning of Genesis by stating that:
How much clearer can this be? When God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26), he intended for man to resemble him in in physical form.
The Book of Mormon further demonstrates that, in his premortal state, Christ's spirit had a form similar to mortal man's. In his encounter with the brother of Jared on mount Shelem, Christ explained:
Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even
all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:15-16, italics added.)
The physical body of man looks like Christ's spirit did before he himself took a body. Cross-referencing this with other scriptures (notably Philippians 2:5-6 and John 14:9b), it is logical to conclude that Christ looked like his Father, who is a physical, exalted Being.
"God is an exalted man."
"God is a product of eternal progression."
While not stated directly, these concepts can be inferred from the Book of Mormon's teaching that God has a body of flesh and bones and that men can become as God is. (See Teachings About the Godhead home page)
"The plurality of gods."
Since this doctrine was specifically withheld for the last days (D&C 121:26-28), Martin should not expect it to be fully expounded upon in the Book of Mormon.
As stated above, the Book of Mormon can omit this teaching and still contain the fulness of the gospel.
"God 'organized' the world rather than 'created' it."
Considering that Martin claimed to have four advanced degrees in religion,6 his lack of understanding of rudimentary Hebrew is surprising.
The traditional Christian concept of ex nihilo creation ("out of nothing") is not supported by the Hebrew Bible. The first verse of Genesis tells us that, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The English word "created" is translated out of the Hebrew bara' , meaning to shape, form, or fashion.7
Genesis goes on to say that "the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground" and "out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree" and "out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air" (2:7, 9, 19; italics added). In each case, notice how the writer describes plants, animals and man being created out of matter which already existed.8 Spontaneous generation of raw materials doesn't enter into the text, either in meaning or context.
The Book of Mormon's use of the word "create" would logically follow this, considering the original manuscript's Hebraic ties (Mormon 9:33).
"There is no eternal hell and punishment."
Martin's unstated assumption here is that Mormons believe "there is no eternal hell and punishment." The Book of Mormon testifies in the strongest possible words that there is a hell and that it is eternal and everlasting.9 Those who receive this punishment are described as being "cast out, yea . . . cast off from the presence of the Lord; yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery . . ." (Helaman 12:25-26, italics added).
This state, though, is not the archetypal hell envisioned by Martin and many of his evangelical Christian brethrena bottomless pit where the wicked are continually burning but are never consumed. The Book of Mormon clarifies that the torment of those cast into hell "is as a lake of fire and brimstone" (2 Nephi 9:16, italics added).10 This separation from the presence of God is so horrifying, so dismal that is is compared to burning fire. It is not literally "fire and brimstone."
Because this punishment is not the "classic" hell described by orthodox Christianity, perhaps some Latter-day Saints have mistakenly believed there is no hell. The Book of Mormon warns that this is one of Satan's tactics:
And behold, others he [the devil] flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is noneand thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:22, italics added.)
"Men can become gods."
The three Nephite disciples, because they desired to "bring the souls of men unto [Christ], while the world shall stand," were promised by the Lord:
And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one. (3 Nephi 28:10, italics added.)
This promise that the faithful would become like Christ ("gods," if you wish), is also expressed by Alma2:
And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every
kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and
from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver
And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever . . ." (Alma 36:27-28, italics added.)
Also note the significant language regarding "inheritance" (2 Nephi 9:18), dwelling on the Lord's "right hand" (Mosiah 26:23), and becoming "high priests forever, after the order of the Son" (Alma 13:9). The Book of Mormon clearly contains the promise that, if faithful, we can become like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
" 'Intelligences' are eternal."
The scriptural source for the word "intelligences" is the book of Abraham 3:21-22. Intelligence (also known as the "light of truth") is also described in Doctrine and Covenants sections 88 and 93:
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the
light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. (D&C 93:29-30, italics added.)
From this passage we learn that intelligence ("the light of truth") is independent and acts for itself. The Book of Mormon teaches:
. . . if there is no God we are not, neither the
earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted
upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:13-14, italics added.)
In these verses Lehi teaches a fundamental truth about the nature of universe: There are things which act (which Joseph Smith later revealed are called "intelligences") and things which have no free will, but are merely acted upon (element). Man himself is a combination of these two things, having an eternal spirit (an organized intelligenceAbraham 3:21) and a body made of element.11
While the Book of Mormon does not use the name "intelligences," the concept is clearly in the text.
"Pre-existing spirits of men."
It is questions like this that make me truly wonder if Walter Martin ever actually read the Book of Mormon.
Man's premortal existence is taught by Alma2, in connection with his teaching on the responsibilities of the high priesthood:
. . . I would that ye should remember that the
Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to
teach these things unto the people. . . .
And this is the manner after which they were ordainedbeing called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son . . . . (Alma 13:1, 3-5.)
In other words, those who are ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood12 in this life were foreordained13 to hold this priesthood. They were "called and prepared" before they were born and were ordained because of "their exceeding faith and good works" and because in "the first place" (the premortal life) they chose good over evil. Those who chose evil were cast out of heaven with Satan and denied mortality and the priesthood, and "if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren."
"Marriage for eternity."
Just outside Caesarea Philippi, Jesus promised the apostle Peter that he would receive
. . . the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19.)14
Latter-day Saints believe that this power constitutes the "sealing keys," under which "covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations" (D&C 132:7) can be made to continue in force after the resurrection of the dead. This power includes the ability to bind and seal the marriage agreement for eternity.15
In the Book of Mormon, this same power was also given to Nephi2:
Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. . . . Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. (Helaman 10:6-7.)
While the full doctrine of eternal marriage was revealed later, the basic ingredients behind the authority to do so are found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
[Where in the Book of Mormon does it teach that] "Polygamy is not an abomination in the sight of God"?
The Book of Mormon does not say that polygamy is "an abomination in the sight of God." It does say that David and Solomon's unauthorized practice of polygamy was "abominable before [the Lord]" (Jacob 2:24), and specifically that "whoredoms are an abomination" before the Lord (Jacob 2:28, italics added).
David's wives were given to him by God (2 Samuel 12:8), and "in nothing did they [David and Solomon] sin save in those things which they received not of me [the Lord]" (D&C 132:38). In other words, David and Solomon's sin was not in taking many wives, but in going beyond the bounds the Lord had setDavid in murdering a man so he could have the man's wife (2 Samuel 12:9), and Solomon in marrying heathen women who lead him and all Israel into idol worship (1 Kings 11:1-13).
The Book of Mormon does say that plural marriage is acceptable when God commands it (Jacob 2:30).
"Three degrees of glory."
This doctrine also does not receive a full treatment in the Book of Mormon. However, Latter-day Saints consider Jesus' statement, "in my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2) to refer to varying degrees of reward. It is interesting to note that similar language recurs in the Book of Mormon in Enos 1:27 and Ether 12:32-37.
"A 'mother' in heaven."
With the possible exception of Proverbs 8:1 through 9:12,16 this doctrine is not found in any scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints. The main source for this teaching is found in statements from LDS general authorities, particularly those in the late nineteenth century.17
As shown above, this doctrine can be absent from the Book of Mormon without compromising its claim to containing the fulness of the gospel.
"A Melchizedek priesthood consisting of the offices of Elder,
Seventy, and High Priest."
"An Aaronic priesthood consisting of the offices of Deacon, Teacher, and Priest."
"The functions and offices of Evangelists, Bishoprics, Stake Presidencies, Assistants to the Twelve, a First Presidency, and a President of the Church."
The Book of Mormon is not a handbook on priesthood organization. A full understanding of the relationships between and organization of the priesthood developed by revelation through Joseph Smith.18
However, the Book of Mormon does refer to many of the priesthood offices in Martin's list, including:
"Negroes are to be denied the priesthood."
Since there were no Negroes with Lehi's posterity, a reasonable person would not expect this to be an issue of revelation to the Book of Mormon peoples.22
"The Book of Mormon is the 'Stick of Joseph'."
Among Latter-day Saints, the commonly-accepted interpretation of Ezekiel 37:15-17 is that the "stick of Judah" refers to the Bible and the "stick of Joseph" is the Book of Mormon.
That Lehi was a descendant of Joseph1 is attested to in 1 Nephi 5:14, 16; 6:2; 2 Nephi 3:4; Jacob 2:25; Alma 10:3; 46:23; 3 Nephi 5:21, 23; 3 Nephi 10:17; 15:12; and Ether 13:6-10.
Nephi1 prophesied that
. . . these things which I write [the Book of Mormon] shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand. (2 Nephi 25:21, italics added.)23
One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon, according to this scripture, is to fulfill the promise made by Jacob1 (Israel) in Genesis 48:11-19 that Joseph's descendants would "grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (v.16). Assuming that the LDS interpretation of Ezekiel's "sticks" is correct, this would make the Book of Mormon the "stick of Joseph."
Even though it does not contain all the truths the Lord would have us know, the Book of Mormon does contain the fulness of the gospel.
1. Walter R. Martin, The Maze of Mormonism, Santa Ana, CA: Vision House, 1979. This statement was part of 42 "Unanswered Questions on the Mormon Gospel," which make up appendix B of Martin's book. The questions were written by Bob Witte. For more information on and responses to the "42 Questions," see the SHIELDS website.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.194.
3. The Book of Mormon explains that "he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (1 Nephi 10:19), but they who know such mysteries "are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him" (Alma 12:9).
3a. The Book of Mormon itself admits that it does not contain all the doctrines the Lord wants us to know. The prophet Mormon explained that he only recorded "the lesser part of the things which [Jesus] taught the people," for the intent that "when [the Book of Mormon reader] shall have received this . . . if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them." (3 Nephi 26:8-9; cf. Alma 26:22.) (I am grateful to Barry Bickmore and John Tvedtnes for pointing these references out to me.)
4. The word "gospel," translated from the Greek euaggelion, literally means "good news."
5. A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Rev. J. R. Dummelow, ed. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co), 1908, p. 5.
6. Regarding the legitimacy of "Doctor" Martin's degrees, see Robert L. Brown and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, vol. 3 (Mesa, AZ: Brownsworth, 1986).
7. See Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #1254.
8. Cf. Jacob 2:21; Mosiah 2:25; Mormon 9:17.
9 See, for example, 1 Nephi 14:3; 2 Nephi 1:13; 2:29; Jacob 7:18; Mosiah 2:33; 27:31; Alma 5:7; 42:16; and Helaman 6:28. Joseph Smith's later revelations did not change this doctrinesee D&C 19:10-12; 76:44.
10. Cf. Mosiah 3:27; Alma 12:17.
11. ". . . and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy" (D&C 93:33-34).
12. That the priesthood in question is the Melchidek priesthood is clearly inferred from verse 1: "the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son." Cf. D&C 107:1-4.
13. Foreordained is not the same as predestined. Every man foreordained in premortality still has the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel in this life. This concept has an interesting connection with the initiatory ordinances of the templethere we are "annointed to become . . .", with the realization of these blessings dependant upon our faithfulness. Similarly, those called to hold the priesthood before this life only realize these blessings if they hearken to the Lord in mortality.
14. This same power was also given to the twelve apostles as bodyMatthew 18:18.
15. Cf. D&C 124:93; 127:7; 128:8-10; 132:46.
16. In this passage, "wisdom" is personified. Ancient gnostic Christians believed in a "Mother of Wisdom, the Holy Sophia," who was a "consort" of Jesus Christ. While Latter-day Saints do not accept many of the doctrines of the gnostics, it is possible that this teaching is a corrupted form of an ancient belief in a heavenly mother. See the Gnosis Archive for more discussion of this idea, and especially The Sophia of Jesus Christ from the Nag Hammadi Library.
17. See especially The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City, 1968.
18. See especially D&C sections 20, 84, and 107.
19. Note that this verse allows for more than one high priest ". . . Ammon, who was a high priest over that people." This demonstrates that the priesthood, as understood by the Book of Mormon peoples, included offices beyond those revealed in the Mosiac Law.
20. Jacob2 and Joseph2's ordination (2 Nephi 5:26; Jacob 1:18) was to the office of priest, with the specific calling to teach.
21. Moroni 3, with its specific directions on how to ordain priests and teachers, is as close as the Book of Mormon comes to a "priesthood handbook."
22. I admit, of course, that Walter Martin never claimed to be "reasonable."
23. Cf. Alma 46:24. It is possible that this scripture refers not to Joseph1, son of Jacob/Israel, but to Joseph2, son of Lehi; similar promises were made to him about his seed in 2 Nephi 3:3, 23.
Copyright by Michael B. Parker, Used by Permission
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