In this post I will summarize the two presentations on Israel and the church in Progressive Covenantalism (my review). Though I very much appreciated both chapters (and the book as a whole), I want to respond to two shortcomings.
Jason DeRouchie’s chapter “considers some OT roots to new covenant ecclesiology, specifically from the perspective of the language of ‘seed’” (p9). Primarily, DeRouchie focuses on Genesis 17 and passages from Isaiah that indicate Abraham’s seed would not just include physical offspring, but in a later time of fulfillment, the nations would also be adopted. As the nations are spiritually adopted into Abraham’s family, they would not undergo circumcision and the genealogical principle does not apply (contra covenant theology) and since the nations are considered Abraham’s seed, they are equal heirs with Israel of the promise (contra dispensationalism). Isaiah speaks similarly, that the “kings” and “many” (Isa 52:13-15; 53:11-12) will benefit from the Servant’s work and be considered His “offspring” (Isa 53:10). It’s through Christ that the nations are adopted. Thus, Christ’s offspring are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29). This results in a new covenant community of born again members (Isa 54:1, 3), consisting of Jew and Gentile in Christ, who share in the same inheritance (Gal 3:18).
Brent Parker’s chapter takes a slightly different route, one that argues that “the biblical covenants and typological structures converge and climax in Christ” (p44). Therefore, since Christ fulfills Israel’s role and promises, His church (His body) fulfill Israel. Brent’s argument, in other words, explains that “Jesus typologically fulfills OT Israel [and the] church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (p47).
Both chapters are eloquent and compelling presentations of the Progressive Covenantal viewpoint of Israel and the church that is distinct from both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. However, I see two shortcomings in these chapters.
First, both DeRouchie and Parker affirm the current equality and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ. However, what (if any) significance has national Israel, whether presently and/or eschatologically? What of OT passages such as Ezekiel 37-39 or Zechariah 12-14 that indicate eschatological battle against the nation of Israel in the land of Israel? Are these to be re-read as spiritual attack and apostasy against the church? I’m not sure how the authors fit these pieces in the puzzle.
Second, the question of whether there is any present distinction in the church between Jew and Gentile – not of equality, but identity and role (similar to that of husband and wife) – is also unaddressed. What are PC proponents to make of Paul’s regular distinction between Jew and Gentile in passages such as Rom 15:26-27, Rom 11:13-24, and Rom 1:16? Here are two such texts from Romans:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Whether one agrees with DeRouchie and Parker that Paul holds an equality of status and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ, it seems clear that Paul still affirms “Jewish believer” as a category of itself. What of Jews who want to retain their Jewishness and follow the Levitical calendar, for example? What of the Jerusalem church that met in the temple? Paul addresses the issue of Torah-keeping (Rom 14-15), and does not denounce it. Though the PC model lifts up the Gentiles to receive Israel’s promises as fellow-heirs, by indicating no distinct place for Jews within the body of Christ, it ironically appears to require Jewish Christians to become Gentiles. Surprisingly, I see similar from traditional Dispensationalists who hold that only end-times Jews who repent during the 7-year tribulation receive the promises for Israel.
As for the first point, one can see a unity of Jew and Gentile believer in Christ and still maintain prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Second, DeRouchie’s argument that Abraham inherits the nations without them becoming Israel does not necessarily require that the church is the “new Israel”, though he concludes as much (p27). Rather, doesn’t the promise that Abraham will be the father to many nations indicate that “seed of Abraham” is a larger category than “Israel”? Could the church not consist of true, faithful Jews alongside believing Gentiles; both being equal seed of Abraham, but remaining somewhat distinct? It appears that this would gel with DeRouchie’s presentation though it doesn’t work with Parker’s typological argument.
Both DeRouchie and Parker move the discussion forward on Israel and the church, and their chapters are a welcome replacement to the Progressive Covenantal chapter in the recent B&H book. This viewpoint has much to commend, as it appears to resolve some issues in other systems. However, it overlooks that an ecclesiological role for faithful Jews in Christ and eschatological role for national Israel remains.
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Understanding The New Testament’s use of the Old is a key issue in Biblical interpretation, but is highly enigmatic, resulting in varying approaches all vying for our attention. Some conclude that surprising use of the OT reveals that the NT author had no concern for context. Some insist upon a natural logic connecting the OT and NT contexts, so that the author is applying the text correctly. Others argue for a typological relationship, where the OT text is fulfilled historically but also foreshadows the NT reality. Rikk Watts’ Regent course God’s Faithful Character: The Key to the New Testament’s Use of the Old delves into this thorny topic. Watts thoroughly surveys the factors, examines history of interpretation, interprets numerous texts, and provides a fresh way of looking at the NT use of the OT.
God’s Faithful Character
Watt’s lectures are as follows:
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
- First Century Interpretation
- When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
- Conjoining Texts
- Some Striking Divergences
- God’s Exodus Plan Completed
- Purpose of the Parables
- The Law and Faith (Part I)
- The Law and Faith (Part II)
The first four lectures survey the issues and history of interpretation. It is here that topics such as modern scholars, first century and rabbinic interpretation are examined. This sets the stage for what follows. The fifth lecture examines instances where OT texts applied to the nations become applied to the Jews and Jerusalem. A few examples are the Jewish leaders being identified with the nations opposing the Messiah in Ps 2, or a description of Babylon’s destruction being applied to Jerusalem’s by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse. Watts makes the provocative point that in these instances the NT is not so much interpreting the OT text, but rather interpreting their current situation in light of the OT text. Further lectures focus on different aspects of NT use of the OT.
As always, Watts is ever an engaging speaker who can switch from complicated exegesis, to light-hearted humour, to pastoral seriousness in a heartbeat. No matter how difficult the content can become (and it does get quite dense!), Watts never loses sight of the centrality of glorifying Jesus and the goal of personal transformation.
Throughout, two points continued to arise for me. First, for Watts, it’s all about the character of God. Second, Watts regularly and passionately argues, in light of the first point, that theology ought to be done primarily in light of His character. Watts is skeptical towards the usual systematic categories, and finds character as a greater foundation from such to develop theological discussions. This elevates the importance of narrative and finds a central place for it (fitting since narrative makes up most of the Bible!) and leads to personal transformation more naturally, as the focus is on Gods own character.
Although the lectures were very enjoyable and impacting in several ways, I did regularly experience a few setbacks. Mostly, I got lost from time to time. This is because a) the topic is complex, b) Watts regularly referred to slides and handouts, to which I did not have access, and c) Watts occasionally is prone to pursuing rabbit trails. On the latter point, Watts regularly interrupts himself and turns from the topic at hand to tell a story or make a related point, and sometimes completely switches gears to discuss another topic. In each of these instances, particularly the last, it became very hard to follow. That is not to say that these diversions were boring or irrelevant; far from it! Everything Watts had to say was interesting and often impacting, but these detracted from the experience when they disrupted the topic under discussion. Watts often went off the beaten path in his Mark lectures, but I think that because the material was simpler and because it was always easy to know where we were in the book, it was not a problem like it is for this class.
Rikk Watt’s lecture series God’s Faithful Character certainly is an enjoyable and informative listen. It demands repeated listens as Watts packs in a huge amount of content that is transformative. However, the difficulty of the material and his proclivity to get distracted hindered the full experience for me. I certainly would recommend this class for anyone interested in the NT use of the OT, but I would suggest they supplement it with other resources. I hope that Watts writes a book on the topic as he clearly understands his material, and his suggestions were fascinating.
Many thanks to Regent Audio for providing a review copy of this series. I was not required to provide a positive review.
The Psalms are rightfully beloved, but many are unaware of its clear and intentional structure. Or if they are, they have not considered the purpose for its structure. Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel, “seeks to provide the reader with a solid introduction to the Hebrew Psalter, one that is informed by an interest in its shape and shaping” (vii). There are many introductions to the Psalms, but a unique feature to this is that it reads the Psalter as a unified, interconnected work.
Introduction to the Psalms
First, deClaisse-Walford introduces the Psalms, with a discussion of their impact and attempting to date the completed Psalter as we have it today. Chapter one exposes the reader to the features Hebrew poetry, such as parallelism, word pairs, chiasmus, inclusio, and acrostic. Chapter two introduces form criticism, that is, the classification of Psalms types or genres such as hymns, laments, royal, creation, wisdom and enthronement psalms. But the Psalter is not arranged by type, so Chapter three turns to examine the actual shape of the Psalter. Individual Psalms make up larger collections, such as the Davidic (Ps 3-41; 51-72; 138-145), the Asaphite (Ps 73-83) and the Songs of Ascents (120-134). The Psalter consists of five Books compiled over time. Chapter four details the history behind the Psalter’s shaping. deClaissé-Walford’s argues that the Psalter as we have it was completed “late in the postexilic period, perhaps as late the first century of the common era” (p47), and was “shaped into five books which narrate a history of ancient Israel” (p56) that reflects the theological worldview of its editors. Chapters five through nine trace deClaissé-Walford’s understanding of the storyline of the Psalter book by book. Book One depicts “the ‘golden age’ of ancient Israel, when a king of God’s choosing reigned in Jerusalem” (p59). Book Two “continues the story of the reign of King David” (p73), but with other characters such as Asaph, the Korahites and Solomon, and concludes as “Solomon ascends the throne of the nation of Israel” (p83). Book Three “reflects events that took place during the period of the divided kingdoms of ancient Israel” (p85). Book Four describes Israel’s time in exile, where they recognized “the ‘grand experiment’ of kingship in Israel has failed” (p101); they need to look not to a future king, but to Yhwh as king. Finally, Book Five “leads the reader/hearer from the despair of exile in Babylon to the celebration of a new life in the land of Israel with God as king and the Torah as the guide for life” (p128). Chapter ten, the final chapter, retraces the five Books asking the question “how did the post exilic community perceive and use the book of Psalms”? (p129). deClaisse-Walford concludes that a major theme is that Yhwh is king.
There are several clear strengths to this work. First, it is clear and concise; essential for introductions. Second, deClaisse-Walford clearly knows her material, drawing from relevant ANE texts and rabbinic material for supporting illustrations. Third, it is relatively unique through being an introduction to reading the Psalter in light of its shaping. Fourth, several side-bars explain a word or concept in fuller detail. These are helpful, though I think they could have been formatted better to aid clarity in reading, as they share the same font as the text body.
There are a few more quibbles. That the Psalms uniquely capture “for the most part, not the words of God to humanity, but the words of humanity to God” (p3) is true in what it affirms but not what it denies. For the Christian, the Psalter is just as God-breathed as any other Biblical book.
More problematic, however is that deClaissé-Walford’s theology of each Book reveals that subjectivity is a real danger in the canonical approach. While some big-picture elements (Book 3/Ps 89 climaxing in exile) ring true, others seem highly speculative. First, it is not at all clear to me that Book One “tell[s] the story of the life of King David” (p72, emphasis mine), nor that it depicts the “golden age” of Israel (p59). Sure, all Psalms in Book One are Davidic, but no clear story is perceived, and the dominance of laments is at odds with it recording a supposed “golden age”. Second, deClaissé-Walford follows Gerald Wilson in denying that Books Four-Five hold a hope for a future Israelite king. This is seen in her downplaying of David in these Books, going so far as to state that he is “absent in Books Three and Four” (p113), despite Ps 86, 101, and 103 all bearing his name. Ps 89 is apparently about “Israel’s broken covenant with David” (p98), when the covenant was clearly between Yhwh and David, and even Ps 89 itself holds forth a hope in Yhwh’s faithfulness despite human disobedience. Besides these points, the presence of Psalm 110 in Book Five should be enough to challenge her thesis. Third, for deClaissé-Walford, the Psalter tells a finished story; that is, Book Five ends with an encouragement to Israel in her postexilic state as “an identifiable entity within the vast Persian empire” (p128), but with no anticipation of the future. This does not fit the content of Book Five, which, assuming the canonical reading, has all twelve tribes in the land (Ps 120-135) ruled by a priest-king (Ps 110). These remain unfulfilled.
As she set out to accomplish, Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel is a solid introduction to the Psalms from a perspective that takes its shaping seriously. It is recommended particularly for those interested in such an approach, as long as one recognizes that other conclusions have been reached by using the same approach.
Many thanks to Chalice Press for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized is the second Bible introduction released this year from RTS scholars both past and present. As with the OT volume, this introduction is designed for all Christians and unafraid of reading the Bible as a whole and with theological presuppositions.
A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament
Each New Testament book receives its own chapter (even Philemon), except surprisingly, 1 and 2 Corinthians are joined and, less surprisingly, 1-3 John are joined. There are also five appendices that examine the NT canon, NT textual criticism, the Synoptic Problem, the NT use of the OT, and a bibliography of the Bible translations used in the volume.
In terms of layout and feel, this volume is much like the corresponding Old Testament introduction that I also reviewed. There is less focus on provenance and scholarly discussions such as text-critical issues. Instead, the focus is on the theological message of the book. The content is aimed at a wide audience and complicated material is discussed in the footnotes. The greatest difference between the two volumes lies in the appendices. In contrast to the OT volume, this has much more directly relevant appendices for a Bible introduction. A smaller difference is that there is less variety in the authors than the OT volume.
Another difference is that the authors’ Reformed persuasions are regularly foregrounded in the New Testament. For example, Covenantal theology, Calvinism, and varieties of eschatology all make more regular appearances. The latter is most clearly seen in the Amillennial reading of Revelation. However, one does not sense the authors attempting to find Reformed theology under every rock; the scholarship of this volume is far too strong to fall into that trap. In other words, Reformed theology is naturally present, but not imposed. This will be more or less of a problem depending on one’s own theological persuasions and patience in reading others’.
In terms of stand-out chapters, Benjamin Gladd’s on Mark and Colossians were particularly conversant with and appreciative of a wide-range of modern and non-Reformed scholarship. I anticipate returning to these. I also enjoyed Charles Hill’s work on 1-3 John and Revelation, the latter being an intelligible and clear (though Amillennial) summary a difficult book. Other chapters contain solid discussions of the books and their contents. I found Simon Kistemaker’s chapter on Hebrews odd because of his repeated insistence that Hebrews alone addresses Jesus’ priesthood. This seems a minor point, but it does appear to drive the chapter, even in dating the book post-70AD, since “perhaps because none of the apostles felt free to discuss the priesthood of Christ” (p412) until “the priesthood came to an end [in AD70]” (p411). This is despite his recognition that “not even John mentions the subject” (p412), though most date his Gospel or at least Revelation later than Hebrews! Of course, this is a small complaint in a large book.
The appendices are all very welcome additions to this book, increasing its overall value. The appendix on the NT canon is by Michael Kruger, a leading scholar (evangelical or otherwise) in this field. The same goes for Charles Hill, who introduces NT textual criticism. The chapters on the Synoptic Problem (the relationship of the first three Gospels) and the NT use of the OT are also clear and readable for such complicated topics. It is fortunate that these issues will reach such a wide audience, as the church at large would benefit from being conversant with them.
The authors of A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament should be proud for releasing a valuable book for readers of all levels. Whenever scholarship benefits the church, it is a thing to rejoice. Even if one is not Reformed, most would happily enjoy and benefit from the majority of this book. Why not buy both OT and NT volumes and go re-read the Bible with these as introductions to each book?
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Many thanks to Crossway for providing a review copy.
“Quiet times”. For some, the term may be fluffy and unintelligible Christianeze. Or perhaps it provokes a pang of guilt for a neglected New Year resolution. For others, though, quiet time is a helpful and even crucial part of their day. For myself, neither regular study nor teaching can substitute my need for open-hearted prayer and Bible reading. Resources like Bible reading plans or the infamous “devotional” can provide helpful guidance or freshness. However, devotionals are often less interested in leading the reader to the rich springs of Scripture and more with jolting them with a sugary soda rush with which to start the day. What if a devotional were concerned with increasing Biblical literacy? Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation by seasoned scholar Alec Motyer fills this very gap. This is a “devotional translation” that draws from Motyer’s fruitful career of scholarship in service of the church.
Psalms by the Day
Psalms by the Day is made up of several elements. First and foremost is the author’s own fresh translation of all 150 Psalms. This is the bulk of the book. Perhaps surprising for a “devotional translation”, Motyer mixes readability with an attempt to bring the reader “as near as [one] can to the Hebrew of the original” (p9) by following word order of the Hebrew when it indicates emphasis. The result is a fresh and readable, though sometimes awkward, translation. This may seem like a recipe for disaster, but anyone familiar with different Bible translations will have no trouble here.
The translations are arranged into units with summary headings. Though not explained in detail, each unit heading is preceded by a letter that Motyer uses to indicate chiastic, or parallel, arrangement.
Along with the translation are copious notes presented on the outer margin. These are similar to study Bible notes, though more numerous and extensive. The notes either develop a concept, explain the nuance of a Hebrew word, or point to related OT texts.
Though all 150 Psalms are present in the book, they are collected (or divided, in the case of Ps 119) into 73 “Days” to suggest a digestible daily reading.
At the end of each “Day”, Motyer offers some concluding devotional thoughts, entitled “Pause for Thought”. These are written in a personal tone and reflect on the Psalms just read. I found these to be excellent especially as they are truly driven from the text, not the opposite – sadly common in devotionals – where the writer proof-texts their own ideas.
As example, Day 1 consists of Psalms 1-2. The translation is easy to read, though notice the odd phrasing in verse 1: “nor, according to the way of sinners, to take his stand”. This allows the reader to get closer to the Hebrew word order and emphasis. Motyer views Psalm 1 as a chiasm, where verses 1 and 6 are parallel, as are 2 and 5, and 3 and 4. For this Psalm, there are 16 notes, which is about average. Notes include an explanation of “blessed” and “teaching/torah”, as well as the “walk, stand, sit” progression in verse 1. After Psalm 2, Motyer’s Pause for Thought notes the “blessed” inclusio that ties the Psalms together, the fact that the blessing comes through heeding God’s word, and the fulfillment of Psalm 2 in Christ. Though all Pause for Thought insights are related to the text, this one is more technical than average.
Another feature of Psalms by the Day is the binding. It is a nice sturdy hardcover book with a welcome tassel for marking one’s place. Christian Focus have really put thought into the presentation, resulting in a book more worthy to be preserved and treasured.
Perhaps you want to read the Psalms with fresh eyes. Perhaps you want some help getting back into regular and structured Scripture reading. Whatever the motivation, I can highly recommend Psalms by the Day (and am sure Motyer’s popular Isaiah by the Day is equally excellent). Oh, that all devotionals were so concerned with presenting the reader with a fresh reading of Scripture!
Many thanks to Christian Focus for providing a copy in exchange for a balanced review.
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All Christians agree that Jesus fulfills the expectations of Psalm 2, but it’s debated if this reign has already begun or whether it entirely awaits His return. Much hinges on how one interprets NT quotations and allusions to Psalm 2 (e.g. Mk 1:11; Acts 13:33), although this does not exhaust the discussion. Other related texts and concepts help shed light on the question. One concept is that of Zion.
An argument that Christ is not currently reigning is that the reign takes place in Zion (Psalm 2:6). Doesn’t this conclude that, unless one wants to fudge the details, since Christ is not in Jerusalem He has not begun His Ps 2 reign? George Gunn makes this argument in his BSAC article, “Zion in the Bible never refers to heaven (except in Hebrews 12:22, where it is used symbolically)”. Personally, I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I’m still working through the issue but here are a few thoughts in development.
Zion & Heaven
Is Gunn correct to say that Zion never refers to heaven? I see four texts that appear to contradict this statement:
- Romans 11:26. I read this passage as the salvation of all ethnic Israel soon before or concurrent with Christ’ second coming. In Romans 11:26, Paul quotes Isa 59:20 but changes “to Zion” to “from Zion” in his quotation. Though some see “from Zion” as referring to salvation spreading from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, I think it is better to see this as Christ’s return from heaven to earth. If correct, Paul is using “Zion” to refer to heaven.
- Psalm 110. The question of when Jesus fulfils the Ps 110 reign is very much related to Psalm 2. If one agrees Jesus as presently reigning in a beginning fulfillment of of Ps 110 (which 1 Cor 15:25 appears to indicate), then He is reigning “from Zion” (Ps 110:2); that is, in heaven.
- Revelation 14:1. Is the reference here to physical Jerusalem? I’m not sure.
- Hebrews 12:22. Gunn admits to Heb 12:22 being an exception. We’ve already seen with the three texts above that it is probably not alone. With Heb 12:22, Gunn admits that Zion is used symbolically. He appears to think that the presence of symbolism excludes Heb 12:22 from speaking to the question in any significant way. I’m not sure why, since if “Zion” here even symbolises heaven, then doesn’t this undermine Gunn’s point? Isn’t this the question under discussion?
Zion & (New) Jerusalem
There is an extremely close connection with Zion and Jerusalem. If we broaden the horizons and allow Jerusalem to come into the picture, two more texts become relevant.
- Galatians 4:21-31. In this text, Paul distinguishes earthly (“present”) Jerusalem from “the Jerusalem above”; that is, in heaven.
- Revelation 21-22. In Rev 21:2, 9ff a renewed Jerusalem comes to earth from heaven. It seems reasonable then to conclude that a New Jerusalem is currently in heaven and awaits its unveiling in the New Creation.
Zion & the New Creation
So we have seen that Zion is in some way equated with heaven as well as the New Jerusalem that will come from heaven to earth. But how is this the case? Is there any logic behind this connection?
- “Prepared” in Heaven. Often heaven is the place where our wonderful future is being “prepared” (Rev 21:2) or “kept” (1 Pe 1:4). Words like “inheritance” (alluding to the promised land) are surely relevant here (Col 1:12, Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Gal 3:18). Our new resurrected bodies are being prepared in heaven (2 Cor 5:1-5). Paul connects the resurrection of believers with the new creation (Rom 8:19-25) and note that Rom 8:16-17 ties new creation with inheritance language). All this to say, the New Heavenly Zion/Jerusalem is also being prepared in Heaven.
- The “World to Come”. Though debated, it appears that Hebrews 1:6 refers to Jesus’ entrance into the new creation in His ascension. Hebrews 2:5-9 refers to this as the “world to come”. Does this mean that Jesus’ entrance into heaven was an entrance into a New Zion being prepared in heaven?
Jesus is Reigning in Zion
It seems that Jesus is present specifically in the New Zion/world to come, which is being prepared in heaven and will be unveiled on earth (Rev 21-22). It was upon entering this world that Jesus was raised above all other heavenly beings (Heb 1:3-4) and enthroned as the king over the new creation (Heb 1:5-9; 2:5-6).
In putting all of this together, it appears that Christ is currently reigning from Zion in a very real and literal sense! This is not spiritualizing the text, though perhaps it is eschatologizing it, by recognizing the development of Zion throughout Scripture. The true transformed Zion is currently in heaven, being prepared by God. Jesus as the first fruits of the new creation is currently there, reigning and ruling. His rule will continue when the heavenly Zion descends to earth, thus fulfilling all expectations of His glorious and earthly rule in Zion on the earth.
If I’m correct, Psalm 2:6’s reference to Zion does not prevent one from recognizing Christ’s Psalm 2 rule has begun with His resurrection and ascension to heaven, since He is currently in the New Zion. However, the story does not end there. Christ will return, the New Jerusalem will descend to a new earth, and Christ will reign here with His people.