Monday, January 02, 2012

Acts 23:8 and Resurrection

"For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection--neither angel nor spirit--but Pharisees confess both."

This verse is a surprisingly scarce comment in ancient literature about the beliefs of Sadducees and Pharisees on resurrection, and it has engendered some interesting discussion.  Here are my positions.

1. First, I agree with David Daube (1990 article) that the grammar points to angel and spirit modifying resurrection, implying that Acts thinks of angel and spirit as forms of resurrection.  Since this is pretty much the only verse people use to say Sadducees didn't believe in angels, that old story goes down the tubes.  Sadducees probably did believe in angels--just not angels that were resurrected people.

2. Second, I agree with N. T. Wright (Resurrection) that the use of angel elsewhere in Acts points to angel here potentially relating to the dead prior to some future resurrection event (the "intermediate state").  When Peter showed up at the door of the prayer meeting, they wondered if it might be his angel (Acts 12:15), meaning that an angelic form for Acts can be an after death/pre-future resurrection event form.

3. Finally, passages like this one are leading me to reject the common wisdom on what the word "resurrection" meant.  I strongly suspect that we must close the chapter of recent scholarship (especially that of Wright) that insists resurrection as a word always implied a physical body in continuity with the previous corpse.

4. So here is where I'm at.  I suspect that the word "resurrection" cannot be so neatly pinned down as so many have wanted to.  It implies a rising but it cannot as a word be limited in use to an embodied rising or some future rising event at the end of history.  While Luke-Acts seems to look to a future resurrection of the dead at the end of time, it apparently can also call intermediate rising in angelic form as "resurrection" and it can speak of disembodied spirit risings as "resurrection."  These are both prior to the biggie resurrection, which Acts also apparently teaches.

Rather messy... as the truth usually is.


John C. Gardner said...

Can you cite passages in Scripture to support your current interpretation plus scholarly citations?I would love to read more on this topic. Thanks for stimulating my Christian brain.

Robert Brenchley said...

Both lesser heavenly beings - is there a text which specifically identifies them as angels? - and ghosts (1 Samuel 28:13) can be referred to as 'elohim', which might be taken to support what you're saying. Luke makes Paul call the appearance of the resurrected Jesus a 'vision', which implies something non-corporeal. What about the tradition which identifies Enoch with the angel Metatron; is there anything relevant there?

Ken Schenck said...

I think if you do a Google Scholar search on David Daube and Viviano in relation to Acts 23, this passage will come up. Wright treats it in Resurrection.

In 1 Enoch 22 there seems to be a rising, but not to the earth. It seems to me the most natural reading of Daniel 12:2-3 is also a rising to the heavens (Wright disagrees). 1 Enoch 104 seems to have a similar rising to the heavens.

Wright accepts that "neither angel nor spirit" expands on "resurrection" in Acts 23. He considers it a Pharisaic rather than Lukan view. But I'm unclear how he cannot therefore consider these forms of resurrection in Pharisaic thinking.

davey said...

I can't find Daube's article in full on Internet, but here is a criticism of it:

Robert Brenchley said...

Thanks. Jesus preached among the same ordinary Jews that the Pharisees appealed to; Paul was a Pharisee. What would be strange about finding Pharisaic ideas in the NT?

Missio-Dei Conversation said...

Along with the word resurrection, another word that might be helpful to include would be angel. There might be more than a couple contextual possibilities. Alfred Edersheim sheds light on some of what the Sadducees believed. However, other scholars seem unsure of what the Sadducees believed. Which, seems problematic since new research would seem to be clearer than older. Contextually, why did the author of Acts include the "angels spirits" to his account, when other gospel accounts such as MT.22:23, MK12:18, and LK20:27 do not include these words.
Truth is very messy! Thanks for the spurring!
PS Do you think the Sadducees group came from the Herodians?