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"אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים" is generally translated as "These [and these are both equally] the words of the Living G-d" or some variation thereof. Is that correct, though? Is it not possible that it should be rendered "These [and these are both equally] the living word of G-d"?

I'm not totally sure if there is a practical difference, although one implies that the words themselves have a force of their own (being living and all) once they have been uttered by G-d, which, I think, is kind of the point of the concept behind the statement. That is, G-d gave us His "Word", and we have to figure out what to do with it and how to understand and apply it, and that it thus has the force of still being G-d's "Word" once we have done that, while the other sort of implies a contradiction.

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I wanted to create the tag "Hermeneutics", but I'm not totally sure it is correct - thoughts? – Seth J Aug 10 '12 at 14:49
+1, but why wouldn't you write "דברי חיים של אלוקים" if that's what you meant? – Charles Koppelman Aug 10 '12 at 15:14
Actually, דברים חיים.* – Charles Koppelman Aug 10 '12 at 15:37

Grammatically, דברי is connected to the word after it (e.g. דברי ברכה - words of blessing). The אלוקים חיים is likely referring to דברים ה:

כי מי כל-בשר אשר שמע קול אלוהים חיים מדבר מתוך-האש, כמונו--ויחי

That both are the words of the living G-d that were heard at Sinai.

As for why the plural, I heard many years ago that the rule in Hebrew grammar is that something that is constantly taking different forms is plural, even if there is only one. (e.g. פנים, מים)

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A similarly contextual proof may be adduced from the words in a paragraph preceding the morning sh'ma for Ashk'nazim: "וּמַשְׁמִיעִים בְּיִרְאָה יַחַד בְּקול דִּבְרֵי אֱ-להִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עולָם", which sounds like there are two phrases in a row referring to God - Elokim chayim and melech olam. Having no idea which of these lines was spoken first, this could either be the basis of the phrase in elu v'elu. . . or an indication of the interpretation of elu v'elu. . . held by the composer of this t'fila. – WAF Aug 15 '12 at 17:51

It is grammatically impossible that חיים be modifying the construct noun דברי, as the nomen regens (נסמך) in all construct chains that feature a definite nomen rectum (סומך) must be grammatically definite as well. If you wanted to say "These and these are the living words of God", therefore, you would have to write:

אלו ואלו דברי אלהים החיים

— that is, with the definite article (החיים).

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Chayim is just an adjective modifying divre in this hypothesis. – msh210 Aug 12 '12 at 4:30
What you just said doesn't make sense. Adjectives must correspond to the noun that they're modifying. If the noun is emphatic (as דברי is in the above sentence), then so too should the adjective be. – Shimon bM Aug 12 '12 at 5:24
What part of my comment doesn't make sense? It seems pretty clear: is there some way I can explain it better? Or did you mean rather that my comment makes sense but was already part of the point of the answer? (That's quite different from its not making sense.) – msh210 Aug 12 '12 at 22:55
Do you mean to say that any {construct-noun - noun - adjective} phrase, in which the adjective modifies the first noun, must have the adjective definite? – msh210 Aug 12 '12 at 22:56
Sorry for the delay, @msh210 - I was in a big hurry when I wrote my comment and haven't had a computer to use since then. What I mean to say is that in all construct phrases, the first noun (the regens, or נסמך) is grammatically definite. That means that if the adjective were to be modifying that noun, rather than the genitive, it would need to be definite too. (אלהים, of course, is also definite, but not always treated as such.) – Shimon bM Aug 15 '12 at 5:12

The correct translation is your second one: "These [and these are both equally] the living word of G-d."

If it meant "the living G-d," it would have said "chai" in the singular instead of "chayim," as in this pasuk.

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consider: "כי מי כל בשר אשר שמע קול אלהים חיים מדבר מתוך האש כמנו ויחי". There it cannot modify קןל, since it is singular. Although the classic proof to אלהים being plural, referring to Hashem, is כי-אלוהים קדושים, הוא (mechon-mamre.org/i/t/k/k0624.htm) – Yishai Aug 10 '12 at 16:36
It's interesting that there are pesukim both with Elokim as plural and as singular. Maybe it's a stylistic decision on the part of the navi. I wonder if there is a rule – b a Aug 10 '12 at 16:47
It could be later Hebrew usage in the Navi's time. – Seth J Aug 10 '12 at 16:59
This answer is incorrect. "God" in the sentence is definite, which means that so is the genitive. As per my answer below, you would need to say החיים if you wanted to change the referent. – Shimon bM Aug 11 '12 at 4:45

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