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NIV 2 Cor 3:6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] ὃς καὶ ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης, οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνεύματος, τὸ γὰρ γράμμα ἀποκτείνει / ἀποκτέννει, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωοποιεῖ.

Paul seems to never appeal to covenant to authenticate his gospel and justification by faith alone. But in 2 Cor 3:6 he seems to speak of the gospel as a new covenant that obviates the old. Is he being metaphorical or does he really see the gospel as being the new covenant promised to Israel by Jeremiah?:

KJV Jer 31:31  Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:  Jer 31:32  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:  Jer 31:33  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Jer 31:34  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

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The question has a lot to unpack:

Assumption: Paul seems to never appeal to covenant to authenticate his gospel and justification by faith alone

I disagree strongly, as Paul makes repeated references to the covenant with Abraham to support justification by faith in Romans. In fact, the Abrahamic covenant is the whole basis of Paul's argument. Unless by "covenant", you are excluding Abraham's covenant and focusing only on Jeremiah's prophecy.

But deciding the details of covenants from prophecy is a tricky business. Is this covenant prophecied by Jeremeiah truly not mentioned in any other prophet that Paul may have cited? Not in Isaiah, not in Ezekiel? But God only revealed it to Jeremiah?

For example, we have in Jer 32.37:

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.

Which appears to be the same covenant as in Ezekiel 37.26-27:

I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And also in Zecharaiah 2.10-11

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

Which certainly seems to support Paul's "grafted in" theory in which the gentiles would be included in the covenant.

But there's more, that covenant together with the grafted in theme also looks like it makes an apperance in Hosea 2.23-3.1:

And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the LORD, I will hear the heavens, And they shall hear the earth; And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; And they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto me in the earth; And I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; And I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; And they shall say, Thou art my God. Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine.

Which was directly cited by Paul in Romans 9.25.

But that looks a lot like Isaiah's promise of a new covenant in Is 59.21:

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

And the above passages are certainly cited by Paul in several other places.

But let's see if we can find references directly to the original passage in Jeremiah in Paul's writings:

2 Cor 3.3:

Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

2 Cor 6.16:

And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk about among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.” Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

And there is, of course, the biggie, namely the last supper, e.g. in Matt 26.28

for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Now did Paul know about the "new covenant" declared by Christ and associate it with Jeremiah's/Hosea's/Ezekiel's/Isaiah's/Zecharaiah's promised new covenant? Yes, I think the last supper was foundational theology for the new church.

Anyways, I could go on, but if there is one thing I've learned when reading prophecy, it's that absolutely nothing of substance appears in only a single prophet. The same things are repeated all over, but with some different emphasis and presentation. There are not 7 new covenants promised, there is only a single new covenant, brought on by the Messiah.

one body and one Spirit

(just as also you were called with one hope of your calling),

one Lord,

one faith,

one baptism,

one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.
Eph 4.4-6 LEB

They are merely revealed with slighly different presentations in the various prophets and then realized on earth during the last supper and then described gloriously by John in Revelation.

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The meaning of this verse is one of the most significant issues today as it applies to various hermeneutical systems. In covenant theology there is no difficulty on their part in associating Paul with the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 and their replacement theology suggests the church is the new Israel. In that system the promises made to Israel are said to be fulfilled in the Church. The debate among covenant theologians then becomes an issue to what degree are those promises, including the new covenant spirtualized.

Among progressive dispensationalists there is the notion that the Church partially fulfills the new covenant as part of their "already/not yet" system of theology. So in this view Paul is suggesting that ministers in the church are fulfilling or carrying out the aspects that are being fulfilled now, with the bulk being fulfilled in the future by a restored Israel. Gunn (see below) and others point out that a great deal of importance is placed on this verse as a pillar of their system of hermeneutics.

Traditional dispensationalists have had a much more varied and difficult time dealing with this verse. George Gunn lists there proposals that have been put forward by traditional dispensationalists:

Dispensational View : Participation - The church, by fulfilling the Great Commission, does not partially fulfill the new covenant, but does participate in some of the blessings of the new covenant.

Dispensational View: Two New Covenants – The church has its own “new covenant” with God that is distinct and separate from Israel’s new covenant of Jeremiah 31.

Dispensational View: No Relationship - The church is not directly related to the new covenant in any way. The church is related to the Mediator of the new covenant and to the blood of that covenant, but is not a participant in the covenant itself.

George Gunn, "2 Corinthians 3:6 and The Church’s Relationship to the New Covenant" Click here

One of the central issues in the debate is the function of the genitive in the phrase διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης. According to Gunn, if the phrase is an objective genitive then the phrase would mean: "those who minister (or 'administer') the new covenant," and that "Paul would be referring to the new covenant as the content of his ministry." Also according to Gunn if the genitive is a "genitive of description" then it would be translated as "new covenant-like ministers" and it "provides a helpful description of the kind of ministry in which he was engaged."

Gunn's conclusion, based on seven very detailed exegetical issues, (see the link above), is the following:

Having examined various exegetical/hermeneutical issues, it is my studied opinion that Paul was not describing the content of his message, but rather the manner in which he conducted his ministry. Ultimately, the chief exegetical/hermeneutical issue questions whether the epression διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης represents an objective genitive or a genitive of description. A consideration of the referent of ἡμᾶς, the context of the statement, the use/non-use of the article, the theological viewpoint of author and recipients and the way in which Paul refers to the OT lead, I believe, to the conclusion that Paul’s point was that his ministry is a “new-covenant-like-ministry,” not that he was administering the new covenant. Reference was to the style of his ministry, rather than to the doctrinal content of the new covenant. Thus, this verse does not support any kind of a realized eschatology, or church participation in the new covenant.

George Gunn, "2 Corinthians 3:6 and The Church’s Relationship to the New Covenant" Click here

I myself have gone through various "phases" when it comes to the issue of the new covenant. At first I supported the two new covenant view, having been influenced by Miles Stanford and the early writings of Lewis Sperry Chafer. Today I would put myself more in the camp of those who argue that the New Covenant belongs to Israel alone. There are strengths and weaknesses of very one of the views on the nature of the New Covenant as it applies to the Church.

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  • Excellent answer and will likely be received as the answer unless something more definitive comes along. I particular appreciated Gunn's comments which resonate with me. I certainly am resolute on the New Covenant being Israel specific. I'm just not sure if he isn't saying that his gospel doubles as fulfilling the promise of a new covenant in relation to the Jews. I think not since the new covenant, covered in detail in "To the Hebrews" has other striking differences from the gospel.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 9 '18 at 21:16
  • This is Pauls 'new convent' nothing to do with Jesus - similar question my answer still applies - hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/57040/33268 Jul 26 at 13:30
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The New Covenant of Jesus Christ was inaugurated when Jesus offered his precious perfect New Covenant blood in heavens holy place once for all for our eternal redemption. Psalms 110:1,4 is the word of the oath fulfilled by Jesus becoming our Lord/King and High Priest of the New Covenant we are born again into by his blood. (Hebrews) Utilizing hermeneutical tools such as various contexts, writers intent and timeline it’s quite obvious the writer of Hebrews and others liberally utilized Psalm 110:1,4 to encourage Jewish believers going through severe persecution to not renounce the New Covenant of Jesus Christ by proving Jesus fulfilled Psalm 110:1,4 as the word of the oath by two things it is impossible for God to lie. Fulfilling the promise made to David “ you shall never lack a man to sit on the throne” as well as the promise to Moses and the Priesthood “for a perpetual priesthood.” Jesus is the New Covenant law written on our hearts. Scripture directly teaches Jesus IS our New Covenant. ( Isaiah 42&49) The entirety of Scripture teaches Jesus came to earth to inaugurate a New Covenant via his New Covenant blood! Life is in the blood. Jesus blood is not generic but specifically New Covenant. ( Luke 22:20) Scripture is not a “system” but Gods words pointing to Jesus our New Covenant. It’s the name of the book! Covenant means Testament Law and Will. Gods testimony law will and covenant is Jesus Christ!

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    The entire book of Hebrews is present tense fulfillment. An highly accurate thesis statement for the entire book is: " Jesus Christ our High Priest of the New Covenant." Second Corinthians chapter three is present tense in directly contrasting the JESUS fulfilled obsolete old covenant ministry of death and condemnation with the new covenant Jesus inaugurated via his new covenant blood offered in heaven for our eternal redemption as a ministry of life and the Holy Spirit. Most instructive and importance is Jesus blood is New Covenant blood. (Luke 22:20) Along with Jesus is our new covenant Jul 25 at 20:39
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The New Covenant of Jesus Christ was inaugurated when Jesus offered his precious perfect New Covenant blood in heaven's holy place once for all for our eternal redemption.

Psalms 110:1, 4 is the word of the oath fulfilled by Jesus becoming our Lord/King and High Priest of the New Covenant we are born again into by his blood.

(Hebrews) Jesus is the New Covenant law written on our hearts. Scripture directly teaches Jesus IS our New Covenant.

(Isaiah 42 & 49) The entirety of Scripture teaches Jesus came to earth to inaugurate a New Covenant via his New Covenant blood! Life is in the blood. Jesus' blood is not generic but specifically New Covenant.

(Luke 22:20) Scripture is not a “system” but God's words pointing to Jesus our New Covenant. It’s the name of the book! Covenant means Testament Law and Will. God's testimony law will and covenant are Jesus Christ!

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