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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 John 3:20

 

 

in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

Adam Clarke Commentary

If our heart condemn us - If we be conscious that our love is feigned, we shall feel inwardly condemned in professing to have what we have not. And if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, for he knows every hypocritical winding and turning of the soul, he searches the heart, and tries the reins, and sees all the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the heart which we cannot see, and, if we could see them, could not comprehend them; and as he is the just Judge, he will condemn us more strictly and extensively than we can be by our own conscience.


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Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-john-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

For if our heart condemn us - We cannot hope for peace from any expectation that our own hearts will never accuse us, or that we ourselves can approve of all that we have done. The reference here is not so much to our past lives, as to our present conduct and deportment. The object is to induce Christians so to live that their hearts will not condemn them for any secret sins, while the outward deportment may be unsullied. The general sentiment is, that if they should so live that their own hearts would condemn them for present insincerity and hypocrisy, they could have no hope of peace, for God knows all that is in the heart. In view of the past - when the heart accuses us of what we have done - we may find peace by such evidences of piety as shall allay the troubles of an agitated soul, 1 John 3:9, but we cannot have such peace if our hearts condemn us for the indulgence of secret sins, now that we profess to be Christians. If our hearts condemn us for present insincerity, and for secret sins, we can never “persuade” or soothe them by any external act of piety. In view of the consciousness of past guilt, we may find peace; we can find none if there is a present purpose to indulge in sin.

God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things - We cannot hope to find peace by hiding anything from his view, or by any supposition that he is not acquainted with the sins for which our consciences trouble us. He knows all the sins of which we are conscious, and sees all their guilt and aggravation as clearly as we do. He knows more than this. He knows all the sins which we have forgotten; all those acts which we endeavor to persuade ourselves are not sinful, but which are evil in his sight; and all those aggravations attending our sins which it is impossible for us fully and distinctly to conceive. He is more disposed to condemn sin than we are; he looks on it with less allowance than we do. We cannot hope, then, for a calm mind in any supposition that God does not see our sins as clearly as we do, or in any hope that he will look on them with more favor and indulgence. Peace cannot be found in the indulgence of sin in the hope that God will not perceive or regard it, for we can sooner deceive ourselves than we can him; and while therefore, 1 John 3:19, in reference to the past, we can only “persuade” our hearts, or soothe their agitated feelings by evidence that we are of the truth now, and that our sins are forgiven; in reference to the present and the future, the heart can be kept calm only by such a course of life that our own hearts and our God shall approve the manner in which we live.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-john-3.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

For if our heart condemn us,.... Of want of love to the brethren, and of hypocrisy in it, as well as of any other sin; for the conscience, which is meant by the heart here, is accuser, witness and judge; it accuses of the evil of sin, and is as good as a thousand witnesses; and upon its own testimony pronounces guilty, and condemns.

God is greater than our heart: for he is the Maker of it, and he has the power over it, and the management of it; it is in his hands, and to be turned by him as he pleases; and he is the searcher and trier of it; and besides, is a swifter witness than conscience, and a superior Judge unto it.

And knoweth all things; that are in the heart; the principles of actions, and all the actions of men, for which their hearts condemn them; and all the sinfulness in them, and the aggravations of them; wherefore, as he knows them more perfectly, he judges of them more exactly, and will reprove more sharply, and condemn more severely for them: hence, if the condemnation of men's hearts and consciences be so very great, as sometimes to be intolerable and insupportable, what will be the righteous judgment, and dreadful condemnation of God? how fearful a thing will it be to fall into the hands of the living God! this sense is confirmed by the Syriac version rendering it, "how much greater is God than our hearts?" there is another sense given by some, which is not by way of terror, but comfort, and that is, that if the hearts of believers accuse, reprove, and condemn for sin through unbelief, or want of clear view of pardon and righteousness by Christ, God is greater, as in power, so in knowledge, than the hearts of men; and he knows the thoughts he has towards them, which are of peace, and not of evil; the covenant he has made with his Son, of which he is ever mindful; and what his Son has done, that he has made full satisfaction for sin, and brought in an everlasting righteousness: so that let sin, or Satan, or the world, or the law, or their own hearts condemn them, there is no condemnation of any avail unto them. But the former sense seems best to agree with the context.


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-john-3.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

For 4 if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

(r) If an evil conscience convicts us, much more ought the judgment of God condemn us, who knows our hearts better than we ourselves do.

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Bibliography
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/1-john-3.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Luther and Bengel take this verse as consoling the believer whom his heart condemns; and who, therefore, like Peter, appeals from conscience to Him who is greater than conscience. “Lord, Thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love Thee.” Peter‘s conscience, though condemning him of his sin in denying the Lord, assured him of his love; but fearing the possibility, owing to his past fall, of deceiving himself, he appeals to the all-knowing God: so Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 4:4. So if we be believers, even if our heart condemns us of sin in general, yet having the one sign of sonship, love, we may still assure our hearts (some oldest manuscripts read heart, 1 John 3:19, as well as 1 John 3:20), as knowing that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. But thus the same Greek is translated “because” in the beginning, and “(we know) that” in the middle of the verse, and if the verse were consolatory, it probably would have been, “Because EVEN if our heart condemn us,” etc. Therefore translate, “Because (rendering the reason why it has been stated in 1 John 3:19 to be so important to ‹assure our hearts before Him‘) if our heart condemn (Greek,know [aught] against us‘; answering by contrast to ‹we shall know that we are of the truth‘) us (it is) because God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.” If our heart judges us unfavorably, we may be sure that He, knowing more than our heart knows, judges us more unfavorably still [Alford]. A similar ellipsis (“it is”) occurs in 1 Corinthians 14:27; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 8:23. The condemning testimony of our conscience is not alone, but is the echo of the voice of Him who is greater and knoweth all things. Our hypocrisy in loving by word and tongue, not in deed and truth, does not escape even our conscience, though weak and knowing but little, how much less God who knows all things! Still the consolatory view may be the right one. For the Greek for “we shall assure our hearts” (see on 1 John 3:19), is gain over, persuade so as to be stilled, implying that there was a previous state of self-condemnation by the heart (1 John 3:20), which, however, is got over by the consolatory thought, “God is greater than my heart” which condemns me, and “knows all things” (Greek “{ginoskei},” “knows,” not “{kataginoskei},” “condemns”), and therefore knows my love and desire to serve Him, and knows my frame so as to pity my weakness of faith. This gaining over the heart to peace is not so advanced a stage as the having CONFIDENCE towards God which flows from a heart condemning us not. The first “because” thus applies to the two alternate cases, 1 John 3:20, 1 John 3:21 (giving the ground of saying, that having love we shall gain over, or assure our minds before Him, 1 John 3:19); the second “because” applies to the first alternate alone, namely, “if our heart condemn us.” When he reaches the second alternate, 1 John 3:21, he states it independently of the former “because” which had connected it with 1 John 3:19, inasmuch as CONFIDENCE toward God is a farther stage than persuading our hearts, though always preceded by it.


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/1-john-3.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Whereinsoever our heart condemn us (οτι εαν καταγινωσκηι ημων η καρδιαhoti ean kataginōskēi hēmōn hē kardia). A construction like οτι ανhoti an whatever, in John 2:5; John 14:13. ΚαταγινωσκωKataginōskō occurs only three times in the N.T., here, 1 John 3:21; Galatians 2:11. It means to know something against one, to condemn.

Because God is greater than our heart (οτι μειζων εστιν της καρδιας ημωνhoti meizōn estin tēs kardias hēmōn). Ablative καρδιαςkardias after the comparative μειζωνmeizōn knoweth all things (και γινωσκει πανταkai ginōskei panta). Just so Peter replied to Jesus in spite of his denials (John 21:17). God‘s omniscience is linked with his love and sympathy. God knows every secret in our hearts. This difficult passage strikes the very centre of Christian truth (Brooke).


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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/1-john-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater, etc.

A very difficult passage. See critical note as above. Render, as Rev., shall assure our heart before Him whereinsoever our heart condemn us, because God is greater than our heart.

For ( ὅτι )

To be rendered not as a conjunction (for, because ) but as a relative, in whatsoever or whereinsoever.

Condemn ( καταγινώσκῃ )

The word occurs only three times in the New Testament; here, 1 John 3:21, and Galatians 2:11. It signifies (1.) To note accurately, usually in a bad sense. Hence to detect (Proverbs 28:11); compare Aristophanes: “Having observed ( καταγνοὺς ) the foibles of the old man” (“Knights,” 46). To form an unfavorable prejudice against. So Herodotus. Datis says to the Delians, “Why are ye fled, O holy men, having judged me ( καταγνόντες κατ ' ἐμεῦ ) in so unfriendly a way?” (vi., 97). (2.) To note judicially: to accuse: to accuse one's self. So Thucydides: “No one, when venturing on a perilous enterprise, ever yet passed a sentence of failure on himself ” ( καταγνοὺς ἑαυτοῦ μὴ περιέσεσθαι ; iii., 45). To give sentence, or condemn. To condemn to death. “Those who had fled they condemned to death” ( θάνατον καταγνόντες ; Thucydides, vi., 60). To decide a suit against one. So Aristophanes: “You judges have no maintenance if you will not decide against ( καταγνώσεσθε ) this suit” (“Knights,” 1360). In Galatians 2:11, it is said of Peter that, because of his concessions to the Jewish ritualists, κατεγνωσμένος ἦν hestood condemned or self-condemned (not as A.V., he was to be blamed ). His conduct was its own condemnation. This is the sense in this passage, the internal judgment of conscience.

Because ( ὅτι )

This second ὅτι does not appear in the A.V. It is a conjunction.

Greater ( μείζων )

Is this superior greatness to be regarded as related to God's judgment, or to His compassion? If to His judgment, the sense is: God who is greater than our heart and knows all things, must not only endorse but emphasize our self-accusation. If our heart condemn, how much more God, who is greater than our heart. If to His compassion, the sense is: when our heart condemns us we shall quiet it with the assurance that we are in the hands of a God who is greater than our heart - who surpasses man in love and compassion no less than in knowledge. This latter sense better suits the whole drift of the discussion. See critical note. There is a play of the words γινώσκει knowethand καταγινώσκῃ condemnethwhich is untranslatable.


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Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/1-john-3.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

For if we have not this testimony, if in anything our heart, our own conscience, condemn us, much more does God, who is greater than our heart - An infinitely holier and a more impartial Judge.

And knoweth all things — So that there is no hope of hiding it from him.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/1-john-3.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Our heart; our conscience.


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Bibliography
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/1-john-3.html. 1878.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

20.] takes up this matter of the persuading our hearts before God, and shews its true importance and rationale. This is carried on in the following verses, but is here and in 1 John 3:21 placed as its ground. If our heart, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, judges us unfavourably—we may be quite sure that He knowing more than our heart does, judges us more unfavourably still: if our heart condemn us not, again ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, judging and seeing in the light of His countenance, then we know that we are at one with Him, and those consequences follow, which are set forth in 1 John 3:22.

But before arriving at this sense, there are several difficulties of no slight weight to be overcome. With these it will be best to deal, before translating the verse. Three principal questions must be answered: 1. What is the first ὅτι? 2. What is the second ὅτι? 3. What is the meaning of μείζων? 1, 2. Some monstra of exegesis must first be eliminated. It has been tried to make ὅτι ἐάν = ὅταν, “whensoever:” For this is quoted Sam. Andreä, of whom I can discover nothing. This of course is impossible. Equally impracticable are the endeavours to alter the text; by striking out the 2nd ὅτι as Grot., or making this one into ἔτι (H. Stephanus, Pricæus, Piscator). Again it is quite out of the question to supply before the second ὅτι, “eheu nobis,” as Episcopius,—“scimus, aut scire debemus,” as Calov., al. Of other interpretations, the first requiring notice is that upheld by De Wette, and pronounced the only tenable one by Brückner, which would make the second ὅτι independent of the first, and regard it as containing the reason of the final clause, καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. The objection to this is, not the καί before γινώσκει, which would be natural enough,—“because God is greater than our heart, it follows that …;” such an apodosis being very commonly introduced by καί,—but 1) the sense thus obtained, which would be illogical, as it would not follow, because God is greater than our heart, that He knows all things: and 2) that brought by Düsterd., the exceeding harshness and clumsiness thus introduced into the style, whereas St. John is singularly lucid, and has but very few inversions, none indeed at all approaching the harshness of this. Bengel, Hoogeveen, Morus, Nösselt, Baumg.-Crus., Huther, regard the first ὅτι as the pronoun relative, ὅ τι: “coram ipso secura reddemus corda nostra quocunque tandem crimine damnat nos cor,” as Hoogeveen. The objection to this is not N. T. usage, as alleged, e. g. by Düsterdieck against ὅστις ἐάν, for we read ὅστις ἐάν, Galatians 5:10, and ἥτις ἐάν, Acts 3:23; but sense, context, and analogy. Sense,—for it would surely be monstrous to make the Apostle say that if we have brotherly love, we may make ourselves easy, whatever else our consciences accuse us of: context,—for in this sentence no logical reason would thus be given by the following ὅτι, which Hoog. renders quia: analogy, as shewn in the parallelism ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ and ἐὰν μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, which we thus altogether destroy. Another interpretation is given, and, as usual, defended with extreme fervency and bitterness against those who differ, by Sander. He would make the whole of 1 John 3:20 depend on ἐν τούτῳ γνωσόμεθα and on πείσομεν (some others had done the same before, e. g. Meyer. See also Erdmann below); and regard it as meant in a consolatory sense: by thus loving in deed, &c., we shall know, &c., and shall persuade our hearts that if our heart condemn us, God (he is troubled with the second ὅτι, and offers to his readers the alternative of erasing it with Lachmann or reading ἔτι with Stephens) is greater than our heart and knoweth all things: i. e. knows us to be His children and better than we seem to ourselves. With this in the main Erdmann agrees: “Hoc igitur apostolus dicit: filiis Dei, si forte in peccata inciderint, et conscientiæ accusatione perterriti fuerint, quum e conscientia veræ caritatis erga Deum et fratres pro certo sciant se ex veritate esse, vitæque novitatem in Dei patris societate accepisse, persuasum fore, τὸ καταγινώσκειν, conscientiæ magnitudine et potestate gratiæ divinæ illoque Dei γινώσκειν πάντα superari.”

But how any exegete of tact and discernment can hold this, I am at a loss to imagine. Leaving for the present the question respecting the sense of μείζων ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ., can we conceive the Apostle to write so loosely as this—“we shall persuade our hearts, that if our heart condemn us …?” For, in this case, the καρδίας of the former clause has no connexion with the καρδία of the latter, but, as Erdmann confesses, is equivalent to ἡμᾶς αὐτούς, whereas in the latter, καρδία is the “conscientia reatus.” And besides, the πείσομεν has already had its emphatic completion in the words ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, declaring its meaning to be absolute, and preventing its passing on to the ὅτι.

It would seem then that the first ὅτι cannot be “that,” but must be causal. And if the first, then the second, which, as far as I know, no one has attempted to render “that” after rendering the other “because.” How then is the repetition to be interpreted? The first ὅτι furnishes the reason for introducing the clause: what purpose is served by the second? The old scholium says, τὸ δεύτερον ὅτι παρέλκει. And so several of the Commentators, adducing instances of a repeated and superfluous ὅτι from Xenoph. Anab. v. 6. 19, λέγουσιν ὅτι, εἰ μὴὅτι κινδυνεύσει …: and so Anab. vii. 4. 5: Ephesians 2:11-12 in N. T. But in all these places ὅτι is “that,” not “because:” nor can an instance be produced of the repetition of a causal ὅτι. This resource thus seems taken from us. The second ὅτι must have its distinct place and meaning assigned it. And, reserving the consideration of the meaning thus obtained, till we treat of μείζων ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ.,—there is one legitimate way of taking it, which does not seem to have been suggested: viz., that there is an ellipsis of the verb substantive before the 2nd ὅτι, and that the clause, thus introduced, forms the apodosis to the ἐὰν κ. τ. λ.: “because if our heart condemns us, (it is) because God, &c.” Instances of similar ellipses after εἰ or ἐάν are of course common enough: εἴ τις ἐν χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις, 2 Corinthians 5:17; εἴτε ὑπὲρ τίτου, κοινωνὸς ἐμός κ. εἰς ὑμᾶς συνεργός· εἴτε ἀδελφοὶ ἡμῶν, ἀπόστολοι ἐκκγησιῶν, δόξα χριστοῦ, 2 Corinthians 8:23. Nearer to the point is 2 Corinthians 1:6, εἴτε θλιβόμεθα, ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως καὶ σωτηρίας: 1 Corinthians 14:27, εἴτε γλώσσῃ τὶς λαλεῖ, κατὰ δύο.…

But this brings us to consider (3) the meaning of the words μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. Two ways of taking them have been prevalent: the ancients regarded them as intensifying the ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία: as the Schol. in Cramer’s Catena, εἰ γὰρ ἁμαρτάνοντες, τὴν καρδίαν ἑαυτῶν λαθεῖν δυνάμεθα (qu. οὐ δυνάμ.?) ἀλλὰ νυττόμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ συνειδότος, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τὸν θεὸν πράττοντές τι τῶν φαύλων δυνήθωμεν ( οὐ δυν.) λαθεῖν; and so Aug(66), &c., and of the moderns, Calvin, Beza, Socinus, Grot., Corn.-a-lap., Castalio, Estius, Calov., Semler, Lücke, Neander, al. On the other hand, Luther, Bengel, Morus, Spener, Nösselt, Rickli, Baumg.-Crus, Sander, Besser, Düsterd., Huther, Erdmann, regard them as consolatory in their tendency, and as softening our self-condemnation by the comforting thought of God’s greatness and infinite mercy. Erdmann remarks, “Respondet his sententia S. Pauli ad Romans 5:20 sq.: οὗ δὲ ἐπλεόνασεν ἡ ἁμαρτία, ὑπερπερίσσευσεν ἡ χάρις. Luther ad h. l. dicit: Das Gemiffen ift ein einziger Tropfen, ber verfdhnte Gott aber ift ein Meer voller Troftes.” He compares John 21:17, κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε.

But beautiful and true as this is, and the similar considerations which have been urged by others of the above Commentators, it is to me very doubtful whether they find any place in the context here. That context appears to stand thus. The Apostle in 1 John 3:19 has said that by the presence of genuine love we shall know that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our hearts in God’s presence. He then proceeds to enlarge on this persuading our hearts, in general. If our heart condemn us, what does it import? If our heart acquit us, what? The ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ, and the ἐὰν μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, are plainly and necessarily opposed, both in hypothesis and in result. If the consolatory view of 1 John 3:20 is taken, then the general result of 1 John 3:20-21 will be, whether our heart condemn us or not, we have comfort and assurance: and then what would be the import of πείσομεν τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν at all? But on the other interpretation, taken with some modifications, all will be clear. I say, taken with some modifications: because the sense has been much obscured by the introduction of the particular case treated in 1 John 3:18 into the general statements of 1 John 3:20-21. It is not, If our heart condemn us for want of brotherly love, as Lücke for instance, calling it a statement ‘e contrario’ to 1 John 3:19; but this test is dropped, and the general subject of the testimony of our hearts is entered upon. Thus we get the context and rendering, as follows): because (q. d., and this ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πεῖσαι τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν is for us a vital matter, seeing that condemnation and acquittal by our own hearts bring each such a weighty conclusion with it) if our heart condemn (notice the words γνωσόμεθα.… καταγινώσκῃ.… γινώσκει: for the meaning, see reff. It is a word especially appropriate to self-consciousness: “know (aught) against us”) us, it is because (our self-condemnation is founded on the fact, that) God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things (i. e. the condemning testimony of our conscience is not alone, but is a token of One sitting above our conscience and greater than our conscience: because our conscience is but the faint echo of His voice who knoweth all things: if it condemn us, how much more He? and therefore this πεῖσαι, for which this verse renders a reason, becomes a thing of inestimable import, and one which we cannot neglect, seeing that the absence of it is an index to our standing condemned of God. And then, having given the reason why the καταγινώσκειν should be set at rest by the πεῖσαι, he goes on to give the blessed results of the πεῖσαι itself in 1 John 3:21-22). Beloved (there is no adversative particle, because ἀγαπητοί throws up the contrast quite strongly enough, as introducing the very matter on which the context lays the emphasis, viz., the πεῖσαι τὰς κ. ἡμῶν), if our heart (so it will stand, whether ἡμῶν be read or not) condemn us not, we have confidence towards God (reff.: said generally: not with direct reference to that which follows, 1 John 3:22, which indeed is one form of this confidence: see ch. 1 John 5:14, where the connexion is similar. The confidence here spoken of is of course present, not future in the day of judgment, as Estius. πρὸς τὸν θεόν, with reference to God: but more than that: to God-ward, in our aspect as turned towards and looking to God.

It must be remembered that the words are said in the full light of the reality of the Christian state,—where the heart is awakened and enlightened, and the testimony of the Spirit is active; where the heart’s own deceit does not come into consideration as a disturbing element), and (such another καί as that in 1 John 3:10 above, where, after πᾶς ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, we have καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, i. e. after the general statement, καί introduced the particular instance in which the general truth was carried forward. So here: By dwelling and walking in love, we can alone gain that approval of our conscience as God’s children, which brings real confidence in Him and real intercommunion in prayer, which is a result and proof of that confidence) whatsoever we ask, we receive (pres.: not for future, as Grot. The Apostle is setting forth actual matter of fact) from Him (these words must be taken in all their simplicity, without capricious and arbitrary limitations. Like all the sayings of St. John, they proceed on the ideal truth of the Christian state. “The child of God,” as Huther says, “asks for nothing, which is against the will of its Father”), because (ground of the above λαμβάνομεν) we keep His commandments, and do the things which are pleasing in His sight (on the last expression (and parallelism) see Exodus 15:26; also Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:25, Ezra 10:11, Isaiah 38:3. It is added, not as epexegetical of τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν, as Sander, but as Düsterd., to connect with His granting our prayers, since our lives are in accord with His good pleasure. This however brings us to the theological difficulty of our verse, wherein it would seem at first sight as if the granting of our prayers by God depended, as its meritorious efficient, on our keeping of His commandments and doing that which pleases Him. And so some of the R.-Catholic expositors here: Corn.-a-lap., with the curious peculiarity of distinguishing τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρεῖν, the keeping of the moral law of the decalogue, from τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπ. αὐτοῦ ποιεῖν, the doing of “consilia evangelica, viz. continentia, obedientia et paupertas,” the observance of which goes “augere gratiam Dei et merita.” This is refuted by the parallelism, in which (see above) the second clause takes up the first and applies it to the matter in hand. And it is further refuted by the usage of the expression τὰ ἀρεστά, by which never “consilia evangelica,” but always things ethically pleasing to God, as commanded by Him, are denoted: cf. ref. John, Romans 12:1; Romans 14:18, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Ephesians 5:10, Philippians 4:18, Colossians 3:20. Estius again has pressed the words as against the heretics, who say “omnia justorum opera esse peccata;” “nisi,” he adds, “dicant, quod absque blasphemia dici non potest, peccata esse Deo placita.” But both here and elsewhere the solution of the difficulty is very easy, if separated from the party words of theology, and viewed in the light of Scripture itself. Out of Christ, there are no good works at all; entrance into Christ is not won nor merited by them. In Christ, every work done of faith is good and is pleasing to God. The doing of such works is the working of the life of Christ in us: they are its sign, they its fruits: they are not of us, but of it and of Him. They are the measure of our Christian life: according to their abundance, so is our access to God, so is our reward from God: for they are the steps of our likeness to God. Whatever is attributed to them as an efficient cause, is attributed not to us, but to Him whose fruits they are. Because Christ is thus manifested in us, God hears our prayers, which He only hears for Christ’s sake: because His Spirit works thus abundantly in us, He listens to our prayer, which in that measure has become the voice of His Spirit. So that no degree of efficacy attributed to the good works of the child of God need surprise us: it is God recognizing, God vindicating, God multiplying, God glorifying, His own work in us. So that when, e. g., Corn.-a-lap. says, “congruum est et congrua merces obedientiæ et amicitiæ, ut si homo faciat voluntatem Dei, Deus vicissim faciat voluntatem hominis,” all we can reply is that such a duality, such a reciprocity, does not exist for Christians: we are in God, He in us: and this St. John continually insists on. We have no claim ab extra: He works in us to do of His good pleasure: and the works which He works, which we work, manifest before Him, and before all, that we are His children. The ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν, λαμβάνομεν, I reserve to be treated of on ch. 1 John 5:14-15, where it is set forth more in detail).


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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/1-john-3.html. 1863-1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

20.For if our heart condemn us He proves, on the other hand, that they in vain possess the name and appearance of Christians, who have not the testimony of a good conscience. For if any one is conscious of guilt, and is condemned by his own heart, much less can he escape the judgment of God. It hence follows, that faith is subverted by the disquiet of an evil conscience.

He says, that God is greater than our heart, with reference to judgment, that is, because he sees much more keenly than we do, and searches more minutely and judges more severely. For this reason, Paul says, that though he was not conscious of wrong himself, yet he was not therefore justified, (1 Corinthians 4:4;) for he knew that however carefully attentive he was to his office, he erred in many things, and through inadvertence was ignorant of mistakes which God perceived. What then the Apostle means is, that he who is harassed and condemned by his own conscience, cannot escape the judgment of God.

To the same purpose is what immediately follows, that God knoweth or seeth all things For how can those things be hid from him which we, who in comparison with him are dull and blind, are constrained to see? Then take this explanation, “Since God sees all things, he is far superior to our hearts.” For to render a copulative as a causal particle is no new thing. The meaning is now clear, that since the knowledge of God penetrates deeper than the perceptions of our conscience, no one can stand before him except the integrity of his conscience sustains him.

But here a question may be raised. It is certain that the reprobate are sometimes sunk by Satan into such stupor, that they are no longer conscious of their own evils, and. without alarm or fear, as Paul says, rush headlong into perdition; it is also certain, that hypocrites usually flatter themselves, and proudly disregard the judgment of God, for, being inebriated by a false conceit as to their own righteousness, they feel no convictions of sin. The answer to these things is not difficult; hypocrites are deceived because they shun the light; and the reprobate feel nothing, because they have departed from God; and, indeed there is no security for an evil conscience but in hiding-places.

But the Apostle speaks here of consciences which God draws forth to the light, forces to his tribunal, and fills with an apprehension of his judgment. Yet; it is at the same time generally true, that we cannot have a calm peace except that which God’s Spirit gives to purified hearts; for those who, as we have said, are stupefied, often feel secret compunctions, and torment themselves in their lethargy.


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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/1-john-3.html. 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

Ver. 20. If our keart condemn us] Conscience is God’s spy and man’s overseer, Domesticus index, iudex, carnifex; God’s deputy judge, holding court in the whole soul, bearing witness of all a man’s doings and desires, and accordingly excusing or accusing, absolving or condemning, comforting or tormenting. Quid tibi prodest non habere conscium, habenti conscientiam? saith one; and another, Turpe quid acturus, te sine teste time. Inprimis reverere te ipsum. Look to conscience.

" Conscia mens ut cuique sua est, ita concipit intra,

Pectora pro facto spemque metumque suo." (Ovid.)


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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/1-john-3.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 John 3:20. God is greater than our heart, That is, more powerful, say some, and consequently more able to condemn and punish: but greater in knowledge, say others; and the following words evidently favour this interpretation: a criminal may have some hopes of escaping, when he stands before an earthly judge, though his own conscience condemn him; but God knows us more exactly than we do ourselves; and thosewhoseconsciencescondemnthem,mustexpectthat God will ratify the sentence of conscience, and condemn them also.


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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/1-john-3.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

By heart here is undoubtedly meant conscience: and it is as much as if the apostle had said, "If our consciences tells us that our love is barren and fruitless, and so condemn us for hypocrisy, God is greater than our consciences, both in holiness to condemn, and in knowledge to perceive the evil of them, for he knoweth all things; whereas if we have the witness of our consciences touching the sincerity of our love by the fruits of it; if, after a most strict examination of our consciences, and an exact comparing of our lives and actions with the law of God, we are not condemned of insinceriy in our obedience to God, and love to our neighbour, then have we an humble confidence with God in all our addresses to him."

Learn hence, 1. That the consciences of men have a self-condemning and a self-absolving power.

2. That the consciences of men are much better known to God, than they either are or can be known unto themselves.

3. That if our hearts or consciences do condemn us, it is an evidence of greater condemnation from the heart-searching God.

4. That if our consciences do absolve us, it is an argument of our acceptance with God, and a ground of condfidence in all our addresses to him.

5. That according to the verdict or testimony of men's consciences rightly informed, and truly testifying, God will either acquit or absolve them at the great day.


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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/1-john-3.html. 1700-1703.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

1 John 3:20. ὅτι ἐὰν) whatever: Colossians 3:23, note: nearly equivalent to ἐὰν, afterwards in 1 John 3:22. Whatever, or in whatever things, our heart shall condemn us, that we shall be able to tranquilize. Or rather, if you prefer to take ὅτι and ἐὰν separately, you will have to repeat because after the sentence, understanding I say, as is very often done.— καταγινώσκῃ, condemn) not respecting our entire condition, but respecting one or two failures or errors. This word is to be pronounced with emphasis: but in the following verse the emphasis falls upon the word heart.— ὅτι μείζων, because greater) Conscience is weak, and knows something of ourselves only, not without trembling; nor has it the ability to pardon: but God is great, knows all our affairs, present, past, and future, and those of all men; and has the right and the will of pardoning. This by itself does not yet tranquilize our hearts; but while the righteous acknowledge this very thing, and confess their faults, and appeal from conscience to God, who is greater than it, and endeavour in no matter to withdraw themselves from the omniscience of God, they attain to tranquility, ch. 1 John 1:9. See examples, Psalms 51:8, with the context; Psalms 32:5; Psalms 19:13; Psalms 90:8.— γινώσκει, knows) nor however does He condemn ( καταγινώσκει). In the Greek there is a pleasant change(11) of the word.


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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/1-john-3.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

If our heart, or our conscience, condemn us, viz. in plain things, (as this of loving our brother is), and wherein the mind of God is evidently the same with our own conscience; his superiority, to whom our conscience is but an under-judge, ought much more to awe us, especially considering how much more he knows of us than we do of ourselves; as 1 Corinthians 4:4.


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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/1-john-3.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Our heart condemn us; as wanting in love, and for this reason withholding aid from the destitute when we ought to bestow it.

God is greater; more perfectly acquainted with our sins, and will more certainly condemn us. The approbation of an enlightened, healthy conscience is needful to a well-grounded hope of the approbation of God; and the condemnation of an enlightened conscience is evidence of the condemnation of God.


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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Family Bible New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/1-john-3.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

20. ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν. The Revisers follow Lachmann in reading ὅ τι ἐάν, a construction found Acts 3:23 and Galatians 5:10, and possibly Colossians 3:17. The clause is then attached to what precedes: shall persuade our heart before Him, whereinsoever our heart condemn us. But this is not probable (see next note). “A Christian’s heart burdened with a sense of its own unworthiness forms an unfavourable opinion of the state of the soul, pronounces against its salvation. If we are conscious of practically loving the brethren, we can adduce this as evidence of the contrary, and give the heart ground to change its opinion, and to reassure itself. Anyone who has had experience of the doubts and fears which spring up in a believer’s heart from time to time, of whether he is or is not in a state of condemnation, will feel the need and the efficacy of this test of faith and means of assurance” (Jelf).

ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ Θεός. Either, because God is greater, or that God is greater. If the R.V. is right as regards what precedes, ‘because God is greater’ will make good sense. Because God is superior to our consciences in being omniscient, we may (when our love is sincere and fruitful) persuade our consciences before Him to acquit us. Our consciences through imperfect knowledge may be either too strict or too easy with us: God cannot be either, for He knows and weighs all.

But it seems almost certain that ‘if our heart condemn us’ must be right, as the natural correlative of ‘if our heart condemn us not,’ which is indisputably right. This progress by means of opposites stated side by side has been S. John’s method all through: ‘if we confess our sins’ and ‘if we say that we have not sinned’ (1 John 1:9-10); ‘he that loveth his brother’ and ‘he that hateth his brother’ (1 John 2:10-11); ‘he that doeth righteousness’ and ‘he that doeth sin’ (1 John 3:7-8); ‘every spirit that confesseth’ and ‘every spirit that confesseth not’ (1 John 4:2-3). But, if this is accepted, what is to be done with the apparently redundant ὅτι? Two plans are suggested: 1. to supply ‘it is’ before ὄτι = ‘because’; 2. to supply ‘it is plain’ (δῆλον) before ὅτι = ‘that.’ The latter seems preferable: for what can be the meaning of ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is) because God is greater than our heart’? Whereas, ‘if our heart condemn us, (it is plain) that God is greater than our heart’ makes excellent sense. There is perhaps a similar ellipse of ‘it is plain’ (ὅτι = δῆλον ὅτι) 1 Timothy 6:7; ‘We brought nothing into the world, and (it is plain) that we can carry nothing out’; where [702]3[703]3[704][705] insert δῆλον before ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐξενεγκεῖν τι δυνάμεθα. Field (Otium Norvicense III. 127) quotes other instances from S. Chrysostom of the ellipse of δῆλον.

We must not give ‘God is greater’ a one-sided interpretation, either ‘God is more merciful’ or ‘God is more strict.’ It means that He is a more perfect judge than our heart can be. It is the difference between conscience and Omniscience.

καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. The καί is epexegetic; it explains the special character of God’s superiority when the soul stands before the judgment-seat of conscience. He knows all things; on the one hand the light and grace against which we have sinned, on the other the reality of our repentance and our love. It was to this infallible omniscience that S. Peter appealed, in humble distrust of his own feeling and judgment; ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee’ (John 21:17). It is the reality and activity of our love (1 John 3:18-19) which gives us assurance under the accusations of conscience. Comp. ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses,’ having genuine love for them, ‘your heavenly Father will also forgive you,’ and ye will be able to persuade your hearts before Him (Matthew 6:14).

The force of 1 John 3:19-20 may be thus summed up: ‘By loving our brethren in deed and truth we come to know that we are God’s children and have His presence within us, and are enabled to meet the disquieting charges of conscience. For, if conscience condemns us, its verdict is not infallible nor final. We may still appeal to the omniscient God, whose love implanted within us is a sign that we are not condemned and rejected by Him.


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"Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/1-john-3.html. 1896.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

20. If our heart condemn us—As not loving our brother in deed and in active benefaction to his needs. If we are conscious of wrong-doings or short-comings.

Greater than our heart—And his condemnation is more terrible, as well as more sure, for he knoweth all things, and no guilt can escape his inspection.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-john-3.html. 1874-1909.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

if. App-118.

condemn. Greek. kataginosko. See Galatians 2:11 (blamed).

all things. Compare Peter"s answer, John 21:17.


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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/1-john-3.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

Bengel takes this as consoling the believer whom his heart condemns; who therefore, like Peter, appeals from Bengel takes this as consoling the believer whom his heart condemns; who therefore, like Peter, appeals from conscience to Him who is greater than conscience, "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee." Peter's conscience, though condemning him of his denial of the Lord, assured him of His love; but fearing the possibility, owing to his fall, of deceiving himself, he appeals to the all-knowing God (John 21:17): so Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:3-4). So, if our heart condemn us of sin in general, yet if we have the one sign of sonship, love, we may still assure our hearts, knowing that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. But Alford objects, Thus hoti is translated 'because' in the beginning, and '(we know) that' in the middle of the verse. If the verse were consolatory, it probably would have been, 'Because EVEN if our heart condemn us,' etc. Translate, 'Because (the reason why it was stated in 1 John 3:19 to be so important to "assure our hearts before Him") if our heart condemn [kataginoskee] ('know [anything] against us:' in contrast to 'we shall know that we are of the truth') us (it is) because God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.' If our heart judges us unfavourably, we may be sure that He, knowing more than our heart knows, judges us more unfavourably still (Alford).

Compare the ellipsis, 1 Corinthians 14:27; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 8:23. The condemning testimony of conscience is not alone, but is the echo of the voice of Him who is greater, and knoweth all things. Our hypocrisy in loving by word and tongue, not in deed and truth, does not escape even conscience, though knowing but little, how much less God who knows all things? I prefer the consolatory view. For [ peisomen (Greek #3982)] 'we shall assure our hearts' (note, 1 John 3:19), is gain over, so as to be stilled, implying a previous self-condemnation by the heart (1 John 3:20), which is got over by the consolatory thought, 'God is greater than my heart,' which condemns (knows against) me: God 'knows all things' [ ginooskei (Greek #1097), not kataginooskei, 'condemns'], therefore knows my love and desire to serve Him; knows my frame, so as to pity my weakness (Psalms 103:13-14). This gaining over of the heart to peace is not so advanced experience as having CONFIDENCE toward God, which flows from a heart condemning us not. The first 'because' applies to the two alternatives (1 John 3:20-21), giving the ground of saying, that having love we shall gain over, or assure our minds before Him (1 John 3:19): the second 'because' applies to the first alone-namely, if our heart condemn us. When he reaches the second alternative (1 John 3:21), he states it independently of the former 'because,' which connected it with 1 John 3:19, inasmuch as CONFIDENCE toward God is a further stage than persuading our hearts, though always preceded by it.


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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/1-john-3.html. 1871-8.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
if
Job 27:6; John 8:9; Acts 5:33; Romans 2:14,15; 1 Corinthians 4:4; 14:24,25; Titus 3:11
God
4:4; Job 33:12; John 10:29,30; Hebrews 6:13
and
Psalms 44:20,21; 90:8; 139:1-4; Jeremiah 17:10; 23:24; John 2:24,25; 21:17; Hebrews 4:13; Revelation 2:23

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/1-john-3.html.

The Bible Study New Testament

If our heart condemns us. It is best to make this part of the same thought as 1 John 3:19. J. W. Roberts thinks this is so. "Our heart condemns us because of our acts of sin (see note on 1 John 2:1), and we ask in fear, ‘Am I loving as I ought to do???' The fact that we are acting out our love will give us confidence. It is a paradox that only as we do see that Jesus paid it all ( Romans 8:1-4 and notes) will we be set free to make our lives a living sacrifice in praise to God!!!" (1) God knows the worst that is in us and still loves us! What the Christian learns about himself when he tries to be holy, God knew all along! (2) God knows everything, and He sometimes gives us credit for our good intentions. See 1 Kings 8:18-19.


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Bibliography
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". "The Bible Study New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-john-3.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Our heart refers to our mind with its various attributes. Having been instructed to show our love by helpful works, if we do so we will feel assured in connection with the subject. If we fail to do our known duty we will have "a guilty conscience" and be self-condemned. If our own knowledge of neglect causes us to feel condemned, we may be sure that God will condemn us also because He knows our hearts.


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 John 3:20". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/znt/1-john-3.html. 1952.

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