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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 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

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