The footnote in the Recovery Version says 6:00 p.m.; the Life-Study of John (Witness Lee, ad loc.) says noon. Is there a mistake here?
This change in the footnote was made in Taipei in the spring of 1987, as Brother Lee finalized the footnotes for the New Testament. Brother Lee spent some time looking into this time question in the Gospel of John, and although I was there with him, most of the work was done in Chinese; hence, I did not get to hear all the details of his thought on the matter. At one point Brother Lee told me that he was going to make the change to the footnote regarding the hour that the Samaritan woman went out to the well. I was somewhat surprised. I reminded him that he had interpreted this otherwise in the Life-study of John. He was not bothered about this at all. He was well aware of what he had shared some 12 years earlier in the life-study. He told me quite plainly that he had restudied the matter and that this was now his understanding. I gladly accepted that then and have ever since.
It is quite embarrassing that this has turned out to be, by far, the most frequently asked question concerning the New Testament Recovery Version. I have lost count of the number of times saints have written to me about it. I wish to take this opportunity to put down in writing an answer that I hope will serve as an adequate reply to the many saints who, I am now certain, will ask about it in the future. I should have done this long ago, but I never expected that the question would persist so long.
I personally do not have a preference on this time issue one way or the other. But I do have some definite feeling related to the larger issue of Brother Lee’s authorship of the note. Let me say first that Brother Witness Lee fully gained my respect on a personal level not only as a genuine man of God but also as a careful and capable teacher of the Bible. What he has written in the footnotes are the culmination of his study of the Bible over his many years with the Lord and in this ministry. I am quite happy to accept Brother Lee’s work as it stands and have no desire to modify it in any way. I feel that it stands for the ages. I am certainly aware that Brother Lee has taken stands that are at odds with the majority views on a number of issues. Some of these issues are very major in divine truth, and some are quite minor in historical detail (as is this one that we are discussing). But these are stands on matters of controversy, not blatant errors. To this day I accord Brother Lee the basic honor of allowing him his own conclusions on these matters and the right to express them as he has in the footnotes of the Recovery Version. The footnotes are not my work, nor any other person’s; they are, as the title page of the New Testament Recovery Version says, his work, and they express his thoughts on all the matters he has addressed in them. Are there inaccuracies, faults, or shortcomings? In a word, is he human? Certainly he is. But in a kindness that I as a writer hope all my readers will manifest for me, I have not deliberately sought after weaknesses in Brother Lee’s writings. There is so much good, even unexplored good, in his work that seeking after faults seems quite small.
All this is to say that Brother Lee’s little footnote in John 4:6 (“I.e., 6:00 p.m.”) stands to this day as his studied interpretation of the phrase sixth hour. Whether he is correct in his interpretation or not is really not something I care to comment on. I fully respect his own right to interpret the matter. I will add, as an interesting aside and for the record (for there has been so much attention paid to this “troublesome” footnote), that near the end of his life, in one of his spoken messages, he casually mentioned that the Samaritan woman came to the well at noon. I was in the audience at the time, and because I had been defending for years his right to interpret the sixth hour in John 4:6 as it pleased him, I groaned. But even then I did not modify his footnote. Having worked with him on the Recovery Version for years, I knew that what he spoke on the podium did not automatically trigger changes in his work in the footnotes, especially something as casually spoken as this was. He always let the editorial section know directly when he wanted changes made to the footnotes, and he never asked that his studied interpretation in this footnote be changed. Perhaps on the podium, remembering only what he had said in the life-study and forgetting what he later concluded in his final work on the New Testament, he favored his previous interpretation at that moment. It would have been very easy for him to forget where he settled on this issue after further study. It was certainly not a major point of interest for him; there were far more important issues that occupied him in his ministry.
Along this line and as a conclusion, I wish to relate a little incident that happened one day when I was working with Brother Lee, an incident which touches me deeply still. I was reading some correspondence of the saints to him, and we came upon a letter questioning some historical statement that was made in the Old Testament Recovery Version. (If I recall correctly, it related to the Persian kings.) Brother Lee seemed grieved by the letter and made the comment that he wished the saints would give that kind of attention to the matters of God’s economy rather than to these historical points. I felt that there was some sadness in his tone, but perhaps I was reading my own emotion into his.