In a recent discussion I had in the Wild West of Facebook back-and-forth I was told by a couple of my interlocutors that multiple differing manuscripts, multiple differing Greek texts, and multiple differing versions were all the word of God. I found this puzzling and I found it puzzling for the following reasons:
1.) Premise 1: There is only one God.
Premise 2: There is only one voice of God.
Premise 3: There is only one actualized timeline.
Premise 4: When the one God using His one voice in the one actualized timeline spoke inspired words to the penmen of Scripture, one set of inspired words were spoken.
Premise 5: Only those words spoken by the one God using His one voice in the one actualized timeline are God’s words. No more. No less.
Conclusion: Claiming that the TR and the NA28 or version X and version Y are the word of God is indefensible if there are indeed only one set of words. Given this argument, claiming one is the word of God is far more defensible.
2.) Consider the following example, in 1 Kings 22 Ahab calls his prophets or shall we say his false prophets and asks them to prophesy of the coming battle. This is what they say,
“And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king’s hand.”1 Kings 22:11-12
First, these prophets assume themselves to be prophets of God and so they present their prophecy. Second, others i.e., Ahab, assume these men to be prophets of God. Third, the message is brought in the name of the LORD. That is, these prophets are claiming that God said one thing and not another. These prophets are claiming that God said that victory is assured and that defeat is not.
Notice the phrase, “Thus saith the LORD.” These prophets are claiming that what is tantamount in our time as the word of God, Scripture. Furthermore, they are invoking the name of the Covenant Keeping God to make this claim. They are not prophesying in the name of Baal or Moloch but in the name of the living and true God. The God that brought Israel out of the land of Egypt.
As the story goes, contrary to Ahab, Jehoshaphat does not accept the prophecy of these prophets and asks if there are any other prophets of the LORD who have not spoken. Ahab says that there is one, Micaiah, but Ahab hates Micaiah because he does not prophesy ”good things” of Ahab. Still, Micaiah is called and asked to prophesy. Micaiah says,
“And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master let them return every man to his house in peace.”1 King 22:15-17
Micaiah believes himself to be a prophet and so he prophesies. Others believe he is a prophet and so he is called by two kings. Micaiah prophesies in the name of the LORD, the name of the covenant keeping God. Yet, Micaiah prophesies a very different prophecy; a prophecy of the death of the king and the scattering of the sheep. In other words, Micaiah prophesies defeat and not victory. Can both the prophecy of Macaiah and that of Zedekiah both be the word of God? It seems the answer is manifestly, no. If that is the case, can a version which has the long ending in Mark and a version which has not the long ending in Mark both be the word of God? Again, at least at that point in the Scripture, it seems the answer is manifestly, no.
3.) Picking up with the example above, there is an additional moral component with saying God said something He didn’t or to say that God didn’t say something when he did. In the case of the Zedekiah, as in all claims that God said this or that, he prophesied that God said something He didn’t say [i.e., there will be victory]. Additionally, Zedekiah also failed to prophesy something that God said [i.e., catastrophic defeat]. As a result, what happens to Zedekiah for this very infraction? The Scripture tells us,
“And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself.”1 Kings 22:25
Many commentators here observe that Micaiah predicts that when the news returns to the palace that the king is dead in battle, Zedekiah will be on the run for his life because he is a false prophet and his false prophecy contributed to if not directly caused the death of the king. Some commentators argue that Zedekiah’s false prophesy contributes to Jezebel’s slaughter of the prophets of God because so many of them claimed to speak for God, where proven wrong, and therefore were proven to be charlatans. In short, Zedekiah’s false prophecy lead to the threatening of his life and perhaps even the death of many of the prophets of the LORD.
I make this point only to say, that if #2 above holds, then claims in opposition to #2 situate that claimant in the same company of Zedekiah et al. In short, there is great gravity in saying this is Scripture and this is not. If only our modern evangelical textual critics where as the wicked king Ahab on this point. He could at least recognize that Zedekiah’s prophecy and Micaiah’s prophecy cannot be the word of God at the same time and in the same way.
4.) I ask you to consider that there is a significant difference between making claims about what God said or did not say, and making claims about what God meant by what He said. The former postulates two different God’s while the latter reveals different understandings of the same God.
For example, on the one hand, you observe the phenomena of Scripture which teaches that God is sovereign and that man is free. Christian A observes these phenomena and ascribes to Molinism. Christian B observes these same phenomena and ascribes to Arminianism. Christian C does the same and ascribes to Calvinism. Assuming no one is questioning what God has said, at least not knowingly, the dispute here is over what God means not whether God acted or did not act in history via inspired speech.
On the other hand, if you say that God inspired the long ending in Mark but your neighbor says that God did not inspire the long ending in Mark. You hold to a God that acted in time while your neighbor holds to a God that did not act in time in this way. Put another way, it is like one of you believes Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and one of you believe Jesus did not. This is not the same God. Unlike with Abraham, one of you is not believing what God said therefore your belief is not counted to you as righteousness.
5.) What is the doctrinal gravity of Micaiah and Zedekiah’s words? Could we lose those words from the canon and still have a sufficiently reliable text? It seems for the modern evangelical text critic the answer is, yes. Yet, Micaiah pronounces judgement upon Zedekiah for his “non-doctrinally significant” words. We learn at least two things from this:
One, simply because a word is not regarded by this or that person as doctrinally significant does not mean that said word can be cast aside without significant repercussions to the one casting. According to Scripture and this passage in particular, in addition to the doctrinal significance of a word discussed in the next point, there is also a truth quality [did God say X or did He not], and a moral quality [it is immoral to say you speak for God when you don’t e.g., God said its time for me to get a private jet. Send in your seed money.]. As such, the no-major-doctrine-is-affected-by-errors argument is both shallow and indefensible.
6.) Finally, given #4, it seems there is great doctrinal significance even to the smallest of words. Apart from the fact that many of Christ’s teaching and Paul’s teachings hang on one seemingly insignificant word, and apart from the fact that man is incapable of determining which of God’s words are insignificant as if that is a judgment that could be made, to say that God did not inspire a word like “and” or ”who walk not after the flesh” when He did is very grave business. Admittedly, to say God inspired something which He did not is also grave business, but let’s be clear. The reason why it is grave business is because we are making a claim about what God did in history when we say He inspired reading X or did not inspire reading X. But to imply that He did both when saying, ”There are many good translations” is both grave business and, on its face, indefensible and even the wicked king Ahab knew it.
27 thoughts on “Can Multiple Versions Equally Be God’s Word?”
There is one God etc. but there are over 5,000 Greek mss and thousands more early translations and commentaries and some 30 different editions of the printed Greek text that came before the KJV and with which none of does the KJV match! So much for your premise.
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I’m glad you agree that there are 5,000 Greek mss, early translations, and printed editions of the Greek text that came before the KJV. I’m also glad you agree that original language texts do not match translations. Indeed, one is in the original language of the NT, and one is a translation. To which premise are you referring? Seeing that we agree on these points I don’t see the conflict.
Translations are done by men and thus are going to have differences. It is evident in ancient translations, as well as, modern. The manuscripts from which they translate also have differences and some modern and not so modern translations have sourced material from ancient commentaries and other translations (like the KJV). So we find a multiplicity of variations in our Bibles for whatever reason and the church has found spiritual profit in many of them. thus we have many versions of God’s Word written. What you find equal or not will most likely not be agreed upon amongst all in God’s household.
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True, what I find will not be agreed upon amongst all in God’s household. But the same is the case regarding Molinism vs Calvinism or 6 day creation vs. guided evolution or which mode of baptism is the biblical one. A lack of agreement does not preclude a correct position. Simply because people disagree on what translation is God’s word for the English-speaking church does not mean the KJV cannot be that version of God’s word. I’m sure you agree on this point as well. In sum, it seems we agree on much, but your observations have a negative bent. Perhaps you are more on our side than you think.
Likewise, it does not mean that the KJV is exclusively God’s Word for English speakers. Indeed, the simple fact that not all use the KJV proves the point.
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Indeed, this point alone does not make the case for the KJV being the standard sacred text of the English-speaking church. But of course, that is not our argument as I’m sure you are aware. As for those not reading the KJV, sure they don’t hold the KJV to be the standard sacred text, but they don’t appear to hold any text as a standard sacred text.
They do not hold to a standard (English) sacred text because there is no reason to do so nor is their any advantage to do so. On the other hand, there are advantages to having multiple versions and such can only be seen as a great blessing.
I heartily disagree with both of these points. They are far to rosy and a bit simplistic. Here is a summary that begins to explain why your comment is woefully lacking. Let me know your thoughts. Blessings.
You seriously offer that as an answer and want me to believe anybody does that?
Come on, Ross. I didn’t offer this as an answer I offered it as a response to your points that there is “no advantage” to holding to a standard sacred text and that holding to multiple versions is a “great blessing.” The post I linked to simultaneously demonstrates that there are advantages to holding to a standard sacred text AND that the existence of multiple versions is not a “great blessing.”
Peter, that is not a serious answer. No church does a public reading while all using different versions. People know which version the pastor is going to use or they can pull a pew Bible out of the hymnal holder and read along. It does not gain say anything against the great blessing of multiple versions being at hand.
Thanks again, Ross. Right, they either read what the pastor is reading or read the Bible in the back of the pew which the pastor is reading. This is called a standard sacred text for that church. The very fact that the church does not read along in their given version is proof that reading out loud in your given version is a rejected practice in all churches. No church lets you read whatever version you want to read when it comes to everyone reading out loud together. Why, because it doesn’t work. Because it is disorderly. Because it is a cause of confusion.
If you insist that multiple versions have made the church better, it what way has it made things better? In church attendance? Nope, church attendance in the West is in decline. In biblical literacy [I would expect this would be the most natural betterment]? Nope, we are more biblically illiterate in the West than we have ever been. Most can’t even name the books of the Bible. How about the longevity of pastors in their pulpits? Nope, most pastors don’t last 5 years at a single church. What objective betterment do you speak of? The burden of proof rests with you. As always, it been a pleasure.
My view of ecclesiology is probably a good bit different than yours. So those things you see as negatives I see mostly as positives or irrelevant to the real issue even if they are real problems. But the question stands as to how multiple versions are blessing. Anyone who goes to school and learns about communication is taught a technique for clarifying communication. If a question or statement is made and not understood, the communicator is asked to rephrase the question/statement thereby achieving the goal of clarification and understanding. Multiple versions serves that purpose so very excellently. If there was only one obsolete rendering of the Bible available, many would be even more Biblically illiterate than is the case now. Further it alerts the reader to interpretive issues and textual issues in the text that would otherwise remain hidden and thus again the incalculable value of multiple versions is apparent.
1.) The role of “clarification and understanding” is first attributed to comparing the words of Scripture with the words of Scripture, not creating another version of Scripture and comparing the same passage at the same place. Thus the Scripture is spoken of as self-interpreting. Second, the role of “clarification and understanding” can fall to commentaries. So, Scripture interprets Scripture and commentaries interpret Scripture therefor Ockham’s Razor is still violated by the MVO position in that the “necessity” of multiple versions has yet to be demonstrated.
2.) I am not looking for a direct Scriptural reference defending your Text-Form position. An argument from exegetical good and necessary consequences will due. That said, you have yet to demonstrate that a Text-Form = a text. Until you do, this part of the conversation cannot move forward.
3.) Manuscript evidence is not the primary criteria nor is the fact that the vast majority of manuscripts may have this or that reading. The primary criteria is the Spirit of God moving through the word of God to the people of God who receive those words by faith. The “deficiencies” are resolved in that the TBS TR is the TR to which I subscribe. Does this TR use a lot of Byz readings? Sure. I don’t find that a deficiency. Regarding the TBS TR, most uncharitably say that it is sort of back translation by Scrivener. Properly speaking the TBS TR is representative of the decisions made by the KJV translators and all Scrivener is doing is solidifying those decisions in a text. Put more simply the TBS TR is representative of the textual choices of the KJV translation committee collated into a single Greek text and in this sense is a TR and is the Greek which underlies the KJV.
4.) While there is no verse that says “Read the KJV” the Bible clearly teaches a standard sacred text by good and necessary consequences. Currently and for the last 400 years there has only been one version which occupies that space for the English-speaking Church – the KJV.
5.) Nor am I putting the Reformers on a pedestal. The point is that their argument remain undefeated and largely ignored. They worked against Roman Catholics and they still work against wayward Protestants.
6.) If these translations of the Byz are ever recognized by the English-speaking believing community as the standard sacred text, then I’d think you’d have a point. But until then, said translations have failed to rise even to the level of the NASB or RSV. Put another way, when the plumbers and stay-at-home moms of the English-speaking Church put aside their myriad of translations and ascribe to one of these Byz translations then you will find me seriously considering a switch. Until which time, I find these translations to add to the already full and overflowing confusion of the Church on the version issue.
7.) “Virtually a text” and “actually a text” are miles apart, as far apart as virtual reality and actual reality.
8.) Again, the Reformers simply have the best arguments. They are exegetically based, theologically consistent, and apologetically proven even to this day. On that point, do you have any 9th century Byzantine theologians offering sound exegetical observations on the superiority of the Byzantine Text-Form as a text? I don’t think you do, but if you do I’d love to see them.
9.) This argument is largely groundless. Observe. You wrote, “ Then why does the evidence support the Byzantine Textform at the expense of the TR? The answer is there must be a flaw in your Pre-commitments or you have not seriously handled the evidence which simply does not support said commitments.” I respond, “ Why does the evidence support the TR at the expense of the Byzantine Text-Form as a text? The answer is there must be a flaw in your Pre-commitments or you have not seriously handled the evidence which simply does not support said commitments.”
All in all I am not sure this conversation can substantively progress until: 1.) you can show and not merely state that a Text-Form = a text, 2.) that you provide a robust positive argument for your position without using our position as a foil, 3.) that that positive argument be exegetically, theologically, and philosophically grounded in a robust way, and 4.) that said robust argument manifest sufficient explanatory force and scope to rival or overcome our position. Until which time I fear we will continue to go in circles, revisiting the same common places more times than perhaps is fruitful.
I very much appreciate the time and effort you have put into our conversations. That said, without further development of the immediately above four points, though I believe our positions to be close in so many ways, total reconciliation on some points seems out of the question at this time.
1. If one can compare the words of scripture with the words of scripture, then one can compare the words of one version with another, particularly if you allow for commentaries. A translation is but a minimalist commentary on the original language.
2. If a scriptural argument can be applied to the TR, it can be applied to the Byzantine Textform. the Byzantine Textform is so uniform that you can not distinguish it from a text. If you can make any argument against it,said argument will do more damage to the TR than it could possibly do to the Byzantine Textform.
3. “The primary criteria is the Spirit of God moving through the word of God to the people of God who receive those words by faith.” That criteria is met only in the Byzantine Textform as is demonstrated by its exclusive use since the 800’s. It has been used in the Eastern Church to this day and the TR even can be called in as support of it in the West even if it is a degraded derivative. As for Scrivener’s TR, he tried his best to justify the KJV despite failing. The KJV disagrees with even Scrivener’s TR in 190 places if I remember correctly.
4. Thank you for the candid admission. Now as the TR fades and the KJV fades off the scene, it is time to embrace another iteration in the Byzantine Textform.
5. I am absolutely sure you put the Reformers on a pedestal, that is the one thing about your position I am sure of. But I am not sure which arguments you refer to of theirs because it has not been demonstrated in a way I can understand is relevant to the issue that distinguishes the TR and the KJV over against other candidates. The best that I can see is the Reformers used this text and thus so do you. It still appears to be an arbitrary choice,
6. I understand your position here. You demand a single sacred text version. It seems to me to be an incredible self-imposed handicap, but different strokes for different folks. If you wish to limit yourself, that is fine. But there exist many other versions and people are going to read them and I don’t ever see that changing. We have a choice.
7. Virtual and actual may possibly have distance between them or not. In the case of the Byzantine Textform, it is for all intents and purposes identical. Such is the consistency and the stability of the Byzantine and it is precisely that reason it has been dismissed by modern text critics until very recently and it is why it is within a couple percentage points with the Eastern Text and a mere handful of words difference in its form as produced by different editors: Hodges and Farstad, Robinson and Pierpont, Pickering. The TR simply can not compete on this point.
8. The superiority of the Byzantine Textform is quite blatantly observable in the fact that it became the exclusive text of the church since the 900s or so.One does not even require a theologian to spin that up!
9. If you are going to deny the evidence, of course there can be no progress. But it speaks to your position.
As demonstrated above your #1 for advancing the conversation is answered. #2 The historical church used the Byzantine Textform until the printing press promulgated a corrupt form of it in the TR. But the use of the TR is support for use of the Byzantine as the Byzantine is a more pure form than the TR. For #3, any arguments that have been used for the TR can be more profitably used for the Byzantine. #4 Well that is the contest indeed.
Again, as I said before, I am not sure this conversation can substantively progress until: 1.) you can show and not merely state that a Text-Form = a text, 2.) that you provide a robust positive argument for your position without using our position as a foil, 3.) that that positive argument be exegetically, theologically, and philosophically grounded in a robust way, and 4.) that said robust argument manifest sufficient explanatory force and scope to rival or overcome our position. Until which time I fear we will continue to go in circles, revisiting the same common places more times than perhaps is fruitful.
Mr. Purdy, you have not provided the remotest semblance of what is required of an opposing interlocutor. It is not enough to ask questions which I have already answered only to dogmatically reject them without the slightest attempt at a cogent argument. My dad and I have 3 books, 25 hours of podcasts, and nearly 300 posts as offerings for your consideration. If they are not enough for you then they are not enough. We will continue to work and perhaps one day our work will be enough to answer your questions. If you insist on continuing this discussion please answer the list of four above with considerable exegetical and theological support.
We may be opponents but there should still be a certain respect between opponents. Part of that respect is to understand your opponent’s position and to offer your own so that it may be examined and criticized as well. It is not clear that you understand the Standard Sacred Text position. It is also not clear that you are in a position or state of mind to learn our position. Furthermore, I do not understand your position because you have yet to offer a robust positive argument for your position even after I have asked you to do so three plus times on the most fundamental element of your argument i.e., whether there is an exegetical, theological, and/or philosophical grounding for stating that a Text-Form is a text. If you will not learn our position while simultaneously failing to offer robust positive arguments for your position then this conversation in this format probably should not continue.
As such, I am happy to agree that we disagree on this point. I am a firm believer that we can only believe in things that we think are true. It appears you do not believe the Standard Sacred Text position is true therefore you don’t believe it. Fair enough. On the other hand, if you would like to continue, then I would very much appreciate a least a couple paragraphs for each of the four points mentioned above. The choice is up to you. Blessings.
What exactly would satisfy your #1? Because I am not just making a random assertion it is simply and merely a mathematical fact. The Textform is that tight! Simply look at the apparatus, there is hardly anything to show in it precisely because it is tight. It is nearly identical to Hodges and Farstad, as well as, Pickering! So again, exactly what do you need for me to prove 1 + 1 = 2? The Byzantine Textform is a textform precisely because it demonstrates a text.
Now I am here to try and discover what your position is but you don’t want me to use your position as a “foil”! If one can not poke it and prod it a bit and get some hands on it, how does one explore it and find out what makes it tick? Because robust arguments turn into word salad clouds with no hands on. That is why they have labs as well as lectures. Your 3 books, 25 hours and 300 posts serve well to protect your position and hedge it in, but does little to elucidate! You have lots of robust arguments and they do the same: protect and not illuminate! They are marvelous monologues but they do not communicate information so much as state a preference. I am trying to examine your position but I get a shotgun blast back in the face putting requirements on me to make more marvelous word salad clouds. How exactly is that going to illuminate your position? Does your position require robust arguments in order to float? Can you not offer any straight forward and simple answers or are you content to send folks on their way more confused than when they came? The robust argument strategy is not helping comprehension. It appears to me to rather be a defense mechanism.
As far as multiple versions are concerned, I have seen the great blessing they provide in helping a reader discover meaning and such has its advantages over wordy commentaries that have a hard time getting to the point some times. I have seen many times people stuck with a single version that is obscure and obsolete in many ways have the lights go on when simply checking how others have rendered a passage in language that they can actually understand. I have also been in a number of church services where the assembly had many versions in hand without any problem. I have also seen congregations where the teacher laments having to spend large amounts of time explaining the text when simply using a modern version would have allowed him to teach God’s word instead of teach obsolete language usage that is forgotten in a week or two. It seems to be just poor stewardship to cobble learners as well as teachers that way.
1.) Manuscripts are texts. Each manuscript that is of the Byzantine family is a text. Versions are texts. Manuscripts make up text-forms but text-forms are not texts. Text-forms represent texts but are not texts themselves.
2.) Here is a crazy example to help explain our position. If manuscript A says “donuts” and manuscript B says “steak” and assuming one of these [i.e., steak] is the original inspired word given by God to the apostle Paul, then the people of God WILL hear the voice of God in that word [i.e., steak]. Maybe not immediately and maybe not every time given the presence of sin in the human heart, but they WILL hear it and accept it by faith. The other [i.e., donuts] they will not hear as the voice of the Good Shepherd and will not accept it by faith.
3.) God either gave the long ending of Mark 16 by inspiration or He did not. If the former, then any Bible that does not have the long ending of Mark 16 is not the Bible. It is MOST of the Bible. If the latter, then any Bible that has the long ending of Mark 16 is the Bible with some words of men mixed in. Either way, multiple versions that say multiple things cannot be equally God’s word. Therefore, to call them equally God’s word is unbiblical, illogical, and immoral and are therefore not a blessing in this regard.
Above is the summary of my observations concerning your position and the summary of the standard sacred text argument in 10 lines.
Excellent. Then by your own terms, we can agree that the Byzantine Textform defines a text. Thank you for conceding the point.
Hmmm, now I know why this conversation has transpired as it has.
You dared to set some real parameters that can be measured and they do not support the TR against the superiority of the Byzantine and yet you do not accept that evidence! That is why the conversation has gone the way it has. While textual criticism has abandoned text types, it leaves the Byzantine text type as the only text type and they disdained it before because it could only represent in their minds one witness! Let that sink in for a moment. Yes, it really is that simple and does not require robust argumentation to insulate it from attack. But then again, the simple truth always works that way doesn’t it. It cuts through all the smoke and word salad like a knife through butter.
To what specific “real parameters” do you refer? Why don’t they support the TR? Thanks.
The Byzantine Textform matches all manuscripts except for a handful of wild manuscripts to within a couple of percentage points with most differences being obvious slips of the pen. We are talking in the neighborhood of 98%. The wild manuscripts yet fall within 15 to at the worst a few at 30%. In fact, some of these bad manuscripts are better represented by the Byzantine Textform in places than the critical text does which values them. That is because the critical text method of picking readings out different manuscripts so that it matches no real manuscript. The TR is several percentage points below the Byzantine. No robust arguments needed, just simple math (unless one had trouble with percentages in school). If the text form is within a percentage point or two, we are looking virtually at a text and there is no vast difference as they are practically identical.
The arguments against the long ending of Mark has always been a mystery to me as it is in all but 3 manuscripts that include the ending of Mark which is over 1,600 manuscripts. One late manuscript is missing and no one gives it any attention including those who argue against the long ending. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are missing it. One has had those pages replaced so that the missing text is not the original text. The other has a blank column and blank partial column which is unique in the manuscript and it is large enough to accommodate the entire long ending if it would have been originally included. Of course, its inclusion in the Byzantine is without question.
By what standard does “matches” = good and “does not match as much” = bad?
One or Two percentage points! Means it is identical, 15 to 30% means it is junk.
No dictionary anywhere in the world will say “identical means good” or “good means identical”. You have not answered the question. So again, By what standard does “matches” = good and “does not match as much” = bad?
When you examine 300 manuscripts in a passage and they all have the same text as the Byzantine Textform, I would call that a “match”! When several other manuscripts rather have a different phrase in the passage, I would say it “does not match as much” (your words not mine).