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What does 'spirit' mean in Acts 23:8? Is it referring to human spirits?

(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) Acts 23:8 (ESV)

Angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:14) but since angels were already mentioned, the spirits here must be other than the angels. Who are these spirits in Acts 23:8?

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  • Why do you say and what do you mean by "angels are spirits"? – user10231 Jun 23 '16 at 13:40
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Historical Testimony concerning Sadduceean Belief

According to the apostle Paul, the Sadducees not only denied the existence of “angels,” that is, spiritual messengers, but they also denied the existence of spiritual entities in general, including a disembodied soul or spirit that continued to exist after the death of one’s body.

Regarding the sect of the Sadducees, Josephus wrote,1

But the doctrine of the Sadducees [is this]: The souls disappear2 with the bodies...

Σαδδουκαίοις δὲ τὰς ψυχὰς ὁ λόγος συναφανίζει τοῖς σώμασι

Grammatical Syntax of Acts 23:8

The Greek text according to the Textus Receptus states,

Ηʹ Σαδδουκαῖοι μὲν γὰρ λέγουσιν μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν μηδὲ ἄγγελον μήτε πνεῦμα Φαρισαῖοι δὲ ὁμολογοῦσιν τὰ ἀμφότερα TR, 1550

The NA28 follows a different Greek text,

Ηʹ Σαδδουκαῖοι μὲν γὰρ λέγουσιν μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν μήτε ἄγγελον μήτε πνεῦμα Φαρισαῖοι δὲ ὁμολογοῦσιν τὰ ἀμφότερα NA28

Regarding the difference, Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer wrote,3

Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 23:8, p. 430

Note: anima defuncti means “departed souls/spirits” (of dead people).

Joseph Henry Thayer (translating Wilke’s lexicon)4 appears to concur with Meyer, stating,5

Thayer, p. 413, μήτε


Footnotes

1 Jewish Anqtiquities (Ἰουδαϊκὴ ἀρχαιολογία), Book 18, Ch. 1, §4, Line 16 (Niese: 142-143; Whiston: 439); also cp. Flavius Josephus’ Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans (Φλαυίου Ἰωσήπου ἱστορία Ἰουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου πρὸς Ῥωμαίους βιβλία), Book 2, Ch. 8, §14, Line 164 (Niese: 186; Whiston: 557).

2 i.e, perish

3 English: 430; German: 467

4 p. 282, μήτε

5 p. 413, μήτε

References

Flavius Josephus. Flavii Iosephi Opera. Ed. Niese, Benedictus. Vol. 4. Berlin: Weidmann, 1890.

Flavius Josephus. Flavii Iosephi Opera. Ed. Niese, Benedictus. Vol. 6. Berlin: Weidmann, 1894.

Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius-Josephus the Celebrated Jewish Historian. Trans. Whiston, William. Chicago: Thompson, 1901.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles. Trans. Gloag, Paton James. Ed. Dickson, William P. 2nd ed. New York: Funk, 1889.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Dritte Abtheilung, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über die Apostelgeschichte. Ed. Wendt, Hans Hinrich. 5th ed. Vol. 3. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1880.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. Clavis Novi Testamenti Philologica. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Lipsiae: Libraria Arnoldiana, 1868.

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