A personal relationship with God unrestricted by time. There is no continuous or coherent belief in the OT in eternal life in the sense of a divinely given quality of life which is uninterrupted by death or initiated at death. A shadowy, feeble kind of post‐mortem existence is assumed by the story of the ‘witch’ of Endor bringing up Samuel to be consulted by Saul (1 Sam. 28). It is existence without any relationship to God (Ps. 6: 5). But in the 2nd cent. BCE a belief in survival after death, expressed in terms of resurrection, appears in the book of Daniel, giving comfort to Jews persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes. The belief is echoed in 2 Macc. 7: 14. This and other views about a life after death and post‐mortem rewards and punishments were current among Jews by the time of Jesus. The late Wisdom text (Wisd. 2: 1 to 5: 23) offers the hope of the immortality of the soul, influenced perhaps by Platonic thinkers in Alexandria. According to Josephus, the Essenes held a similar doctrine but this may have been an elitist rather than a widely accepted belief. Both Josephus and the NT (Mark 12: 18; Acts 23: 6–8) record that doctrines both of immortality and of resurrection of the body, espoused by the Pharisees, were rejected by the Sadducees.
Generally in the OT the motive for right conduct is attributed to the covenant between God and Israel which governs the network of human relationships.
The earliest evidence for specifically Christian views of life after death are in the letters of Paul, though a neatly constructed scheme cannot be drawn. He brought to his Christian faith the views on resurrection of his Pharisaic upbringing, to which he added his own experience on the Damascus road and what he encountered among Christian communities. From the early picture in 1 Thess. 4: 13–18 of resurrected bodies meeting the Lord in the air, Paul moved to the more sophisticated interpretation of resurrection in 1 Cor. 5 with its insistence on the transformation of both living and departed from a perishable to an imperishable nature, though death itself will already enable the apostle to be ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5: 1). It would seem therefore that Paul does not provide any description of life after death; rather that there is salvation from death.
In the synoptic gospels a belief in the resurrection of the faithful is presupposed, and when Sadducees attempt to demonstrate its absurdity, they are firmly put down (Mark 12: 18–27). Admission to the future life will depend on one's actions in this present life (Mark 10: 24–5; 12: 40).
In the gospel of John, while Jesus is said to be God's agent for the eschatological acts of resurrection at the end (5: 19–47) the emphasis is more on the present experience of eternal life (10: 10) which cannot be severed by personal death. It is a promise depending on the character of God not on some property inherent in humankind. We are invited to trust in God's mercy, but not to suppose that his love is without judgement.
The NT nowhere offers believers the prospect of eternal life in the future without passing through death (2 Tim. 2: 11–13). While eternal life may be experienced to a degree in Christian existence here and now, its full realization lies in the future on the other side of death. Baptism is the first moment or stage in the process (John 3: 5); death is a further stage; the resurrection at the last day (John 6: 40; 11: 25) is the ultimate goal.