On the data front, weekly jobless claims fell 4,000 to 262,000, while the August Philadelphia Fed business index came in line with expectations. Leading indicators rose 0.4 percent last month, slightly more than expected.
"There isn't a lot of market-moving news, except for the Fed minutes," said Ernie Cecilia, CIO at Bryn Mawr Trust. He also said the minutes "create uncertainty within the Fed, which the market is interpreting as no action from the Fed."
Meanwhile, New York Fed President William Dudley said in a Thursday speech the past two jobs reports "helped allay concerns that arose earlier this year that job growth was beginning to stall. Indeed, these reports reinforce my view that labor market conditions continue to improve."
On Wednesday, minutes released from the Fed's last meeting showed the central bank's policymakers were divided, concerned about inflation and split over the U.S. economy's strength.
"To be fair, the Fed has repeatedly said it would be dependent on the data and to see a mixed Fed amid mixed data makes sense, to an extent," Edward Jones' Warne said.
Stocks eked out gains following the minutes' release on Wednesday, having traded lower for most of the session.
"It's interesting because, when the minutes came out, the reaction was negative, but about 10 minutes later the sentiment changed and stocks and bonds rose," said Randy Frederick, managing Director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.
Frederick also said he expects the stock market to continue trading sideways. "I think the market is topping a bit. That's not to say we're headed for a big downturn; I just don't any catalyst."
U.S. equities have recently notched record highs despite trading in a very narrow range amid low volume and low volatility. In fact, Wednesday's session market the 28th straight day the S&P did not move at least 1 percent — in either direction — on a closing basis.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded lower, near 11.4.
Investors also digested quarterly results from Dow component Wal-Mart, which reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue and raised its full-year guidance. Wal-Mart shares rose 1.88 percent in Thursday trade.
In other corporate news, Caterpillar, another Dow component, saw its shares slide 1.22 percent after reporting a decline in July retail machine sale.
U.S. Treasurys were mixed Thursday, with the two-year note yield holding near 0.70 percent and the benchmark 10-year yield around 1.53 percent. The dollar fell 0.67 percent against a basket of currencies, with the euro around $1.135 and the yen below the key 100 mark.