That God made the new covenant with Israel is clear from scripture (Hebrews 8:8; Jer 31:31).
“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.” – Jeremiah 31:33
The new testament is mentioned along with something being written on hearts in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul writes to the church, the Body of Christ.
Does this new covenant get fulfilled in the church in 2 Corinthians 3:3-6? Do the Gentiles saved according to the revelation of the mystery partake of the prophesied covenant in Jeremiah 31?
2 Corinthians 3 is used wrongly to place the church under Israel’s new covenant, but when we look closer it becomes apparent that the details are different, and this passage should not be confused with a fulfillment of the new covenant.
Instead, like other prophecies for Israel, the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 should be rightly divided from the mystery ministry performed by Paul.
First, both Jeremiah 31 and 2 Corinthians 3 speak about something being written on the hearts of people, but which people?
In Jeremiah 31 God’s concern is for restoration of Israel (Jer 31:1-4). The new covenant concerns “the house of Israel”, and so the people identified in the phrases “their hearts”, “being their God”, and “they shall be my people” in Jer 31:33 refer specifically to Israel.
The new covenant was given to turn the hearts of Israel toward God (Mal 4:6; Jer 32:39).
In 2 Corinthians 3 the apostle of the Gentiles, and the mystery of Christ, is speaking to a mixed Gentile audience. His fellow ministers included a mix of Jew and Gentile. These Gentiles were strangers of the covenants of promise (Eph 2:12). The new covenant is one of those covenants Gentiles were strangers to.
In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul is talking to and about the hearts of men who are not Israel.
What is Written
Second, both Jeremiah 31 and 2 Corinthians 3 speak about something written on hearts, but what is written is different.
In the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 what is written in the hearts of Israel is clearly the law.
“…I will put my law in their hearts, and write it [the law] in their hearts…” – Jer 31:33
Just as clearly, in 2 Corinthians 3 what is being written is people, specifically the Corinthian saints.
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:” – 2 Cor 3:2
“…ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ…” – 2 Cor 3:3
Paul did not need letters of commendation for his ministry, nor could he provide the letter of the new covenant to justify it, his letters of commendation were the saved people in Corinth.
Who Wrote It?
Now if we look at who wrote these things on men’s hearts we find something profitable to understand why Paul mentions the new testament.
In Jeremiah God promises to write the law in the hearts of Israel to turn them back to him. How does he accomplish this? We read about it in Ezekiel 36:27.
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:27-28
God was going to write the law in the hearts of Israel by His Spirit.
Here we find the first thing in common with 2 Corinthians 3. The Spirit is also doing the writing among the Gentile Corinthians.
“…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 3:3
Paul did not write the Corinthians into a new covenant, nor did he write them into salvation, or Christ. They were the epistles of Christ written (evidenced) by the Spirit of God himself through the ministry of the apostle Paul.
The New Testament
While the Spirit wrote different things in different hearts in Jeremiah 31 and 2 Corinthians 3, it is true of both ministries that the the Spirit does the writing. All sufficiency is of God the Spirit, it is all of grace.
It is this common point that Paul emphasizes throughout the rest of the chapter.
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;” – 2 Cor 3:5
God made Paul an able minister of the new testament because he understood that the Spirit does the writing in our hearts, not men, laws, or covenants. The ministry Paul performed was neither the letter nor the law of the new testament, but of the spirit (2 Cor 3:6).
The rest of 2 Corinthians 3 confirms that Israel should have been looking for the the ministration of the Spirit. It is this ministration of the Spirit (also necessary under the new covenant) that Paul ministered among the Gentiles.
Same Spirit, Different Writing
The Spirit was neither writing the law in Corinthian hearts, nor empowering them to keep the law, nor restoring the nation of Israel. The Corinthians were not a fulfillment, nor partaking of Israel’s new covenant.
As mid-Acts Pauline dispensationalists that separate prophecy from mystery, partake of the same Holy Spirit that was promised to Israel under their new covenant (Rom 15:27). It was the same Spirit, with a different ministry in different hearts.
In time past the Spirit wrote according to prophecy under the new covenant (2 Pet 1:21). In Paul’s epistles the Spirit wrote according to the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4-5).
It was the same Spirit writing a different thing. The Spirit was writing them as epistles of Christ, the trophies of God’s grace according to the mystery. Instead of writing the law of God into the hearts of men, now the Spirit is writing men into the body of Christ.
“That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” – Romans 15:16