This topic is a fascinating one. It cuts right to the core of several KJV-only arguments at the same time, and will also turns the KJV-onlies' definition of "preservation" on its ear. In fact, the topic of "qere" is so devastating to the KJV-only position, that ALL BY ITSELF it proves the KJV-only position is nothing more than an unjustified, idealistic fantasy. It also shows that some of the "problems" the KJV-onlies denounce other translations for, are deeply rooted in the KJV as well.
So what is a "qere"? Basically, a marginal note. A marginal note that became scripture.
The Masortic Text was compiled by the Jewish Masorete scribes in the last few hundred years of the first millenium A.D., with the oldest available editions date between 900 and 1100 AD. It is the Hebrew scriptures used to translate the OT. Its production is legendary and its accuracy is heralded my many. When compared to the much older Dead Sea Scrolls, its accuracy is considered by some to be incredible to the point of being miraculous, and does much to prove the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. The scribes themselves went to great pains to be as accurate as possible. They did things like:
Several KJV-only authors and other supporters know all that very well, and often relate this information to prove the amazing accuracy of the Hebrew scriptures we use to translate the Old Testament. Most even say the Masoretic Text is God's perfect word in Hebrew. However, they don't realize that by making such a strong (and appropriate!) argument for the Masoretic Text, they've just smashed their own KJV-only position to pieces.
As part of this great dedication to accuracy, whenever a scribe felt that the text he was copying wasn't right (e.g. he felt a previous scribe had made a mistake, the text didn't read as tradition indicated, he felt the meaning might be improved, he wanted to smooth over a vulgarity for reading aloud, etc.), he would not change the text he was copying, but instead write a note in the margin. The marginal note reflected what the scribe felt the text should say, for whatever reason. The marginal note is called the "qere" (pronounced "keh-ray"), and the actual text the note was associated with is called the "ketiv" (pronounced "keh-teev"). "ketiv" basically means "to be written" (ie. what should be copied to preserve accuracy), and "qere" basically means "to be read" (ie. what to use instead when reading the text aloud).
You might be thinking, "That's all very interesting, but what's that have to do with KJV-onlyism?" Only this: Many times, the KJV-translators translated from the "qere" (the marginal note in the Masoretic Text), rather than the "ketiv" (the actual text itself of the Masoretic Text).
I should point out here that qere readings are not unique to the KJV. Most if not all English translations have them where translators felt they were justified.
Qere/Ketiv pairs come in several "flavors". Some are synonymous in meaning, but sound different. Some sound identical, but have totally different meanings. Some are different both in meaning and sound. Some are very similar in both meaning and sound.
The first KJV-only argument that is totally shot down by this subject has to do with marginal notes. Anyone who has ever seen the original 1611 KJV (genuine or a reprint), will find that many words that KJV-onlies criticize modern versions for, show up in the marginal notes of the 1611 KJV as alternate, possible, and/or equivalent renderings. (See this external KJV-only refutation page for some examples, but be sure to return!)
Now, KJV-only advocates have been quick to respond "Marginal notes are the translator's opinion, and are not and should not be considered inspired scripture. Stick with the text. God gave us and preserves the text, not the marginal notes." And yet the KJV itself contains translations from the qere readings, the marginal notes, of the Masoretic Text, instead of the text they're arguing has been preserved! And not just in one or two places, but in hundreds. KJV-onlies are slamming other versions for agreeing with the KJV's marginal notes instead of the KJV's text, when that's exactly what the KJV is doing with the Masoretic Text!
The second KJV-only argument brought into perspective is the "inspiration of the KJV Translators".
KJV-onlies go to great lengths to defend word-for-word preservation, and that the translators of the KJV were under divine inspiration for their word choices to prevent them from being prone to human error. And yet the translators chose in places to translate from the Masoretic's marginal notes instead of the main Masoretic text. That is not divine inspiration, that is the translator's humans judgement. The only way the KJV translators were divinely inspired was if "God's inerrant, unchanging word" changed. Which brings us to the next one...
The third KJV-only argument to fall is the idea of God's perfect word preserved unchanged in the KJV. They claim the KJV is a perfect, unchanged translation of the Hebrew. But it's not, it can't be when qere readings show up in the KJV. If the KJV is "God's pure unchanged word", then the Hebrew it was translated from is not. Not only that, but it also means that "God's pure unchanged word" simply never existed prior to 1611. Either that, or "God's pure unchanged word" changes. Either conclusion proves KJV-onlyism is just plain wrong.
Alright, alright. Look at this verse in the KJV:
Job 13:15 (KJV) "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him."
The NASB agrees:
Job 13:15 (NASB) "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him."
And so does the NIV:
Job 13:15 (NIV) "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely* defend my ways to his face."
But what's this? The NIV footnote:
And the RSV (along with the NRSV):
Job 13:15 (RSV) "Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face."
So, does Job have hope or not? That is an example of qere/ketiv. The qere (marginal note) is one word, pronounced "lo", and means "in him". However, the ketiv (the actual text) is also one word, also pronounced "lo" (but spelled differently), and means "no" or "not". The NIV footnote and the RSV accurately give the ketiv (main text) reading, while the KJV, NASB, and main text of the NIV give the qere (marginal note) reading.
In this example, it is probable that the scribe who made the marginal note felt that the Hebrew "lo" (meaning "in him") was more appealing than "lo" (meaning "no"), and that a previous scribe had perhaps made a mistake of mixing up homonyms. Whether or not this is the case is very difficult to determine. It's very possible that the word should be the one that means "no", and that the marginal note is just the scribe's wrong conclusion. But the end result is the same. The KJV and other Bibles have translated this verse from the marginal note rather than from the main text of the Masoretic.
Isaiah 10:32 (KJV) "As yet shall he remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem."
Lamentations 3:26 (KJV) "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD."
For an fairly lengthy (but incomplete!) list of where the KJV has translated from a qere (marginal note in the Masoretic Text) rather than the corresponding ketiv (the actual text of the Masoretic Text), click here.