Spake or Spoke
“…Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
“God, who at sundry times and divers manners spake in time past…” (Hebrews 1:1).
At a recent event, while reading the KJV in public, the reader unconsciously replaced spake with spoke. Later, I mentioned it to him, asking him if his Bible had spake or spoke — it had spake . “Spake or spoke…it’s the same, right? What difference does it make?” was his reply. It makes an interesting study:
The modern bibles apparently have replaced the ‘archaic’ spake with spoke; yet the word ‘spoke’ is not used once in the KJV. Some dictionaries pile on, characterizing the word spake as archaic. What’s going on?
Spake is the simple past tense of the verb to Speak: An action of verbalizing words which was started and was completed in the past.
Spoke is a rod, bar, or cord, connecting the center of a wheel (hub) to its outer edge (rim).
Using spoke as a verb, indicates the action of repairing a wheel or extending a rod from the hub to the rim: “he spoke the wagon wheel.”
Here, again, the KJV is correct and accurate to distinguish the verbs (in past simple tense). To the point: it would be incorrect to write “Never man spoke like this man” - when the man was actually verbalizing truth and not necessarily repairing a wheel.
Never man spoke like this man - Wow! That guy has a way with wheels!
Never man spake like this man - Wow! That guy has a way with words!
The translators knew how to use spoke (spoken): “…Hath in these last days spoken…” (Hebrews 1:2). As the present perfect tense — an action that began in the past and yet continues to the present; and as the past perfect tense (was spoken) — a series of actions, one started and finished before another. Here, it is clearly a tense of the verb to speak. Interesting.
Is the KJV grammar actually archaic, or is it in fact, perfectly accurate? Never man spake like this man.