The Spirit In The Present Age: Preliminary Fulfillment Of The Predicted New Covenant According To Paul -- By: Paul R. Thorsell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:3 (Sep 1998)
Article: The Spirit In The Present Age: Preliminary Fulfillment Of The Predicted New Covenant According To Paul
Author: Paul R. Thorsell


The Spirit In The Present Age:
Preliminary Fulfillment
Of The Predicted New Covenant According To Paul

Paul R. Thorsell*

* Paul Thorsell is professor of theology at Baptist Bible College of Indianapolis, 601 North Shortridge Road, Indianapolis, IN 46219.

Dispensationalists have prided themselves on their realistic appraisal of the covenants mentioned in Holy Writ. In contrast to covenant theology’s emphasis on the theological covenants, dispensationalism’s focus on the Biblical covenants may be confirmed by thumbing through any one of a whole host of works.1 In my view, focusing on the Biblical covenants has been one of the key strengths of the dispensational perspective.

Unfortunately this strength has not always been reflected in dispensational thought on the new covenant. Much of dispensationalism’s weakness in its formulation was the result of polemical exigencies. Dispensationalism used the Biblical covenants to defend its insistence that there remained in God’s plan a future for Israel. For this reason it insisted on an absolute logical dilemma: Either the new covenant was fulfilled in the present era (as covenant theologians argued) so that there was no future fulfillment for Israel, or the new covenant was not fulfilled in the present era so that its fulfillment lay wholly in the future. Dispensationalism was confident that the OT predictions of the new covenant could not be reconciled with fulfillment in the present era. For its part, covenant theology likewise supported the either/or dilemma since it was confident that certain NT texts could not be interpreted otherwise than by viewing the new covenant as fulfilled in the present age.

But recent formulations of dispensational theology (“modified” or “progressive” dispensationalism) have abandoned the dilemma held by both traditional dispensationalism and covenant theology for a both/and view of the fulfillment of the Biblical covenants. With specific reference to the new covenant, this means that within the present interadvent era there is a partial and preliminary fulfillment of the new covenant in anticipation of a complete fulfillment in the eschaton. The purpose of this paper is to show that

within the Pauline corpus the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit among believers demonstrates that the new covenant is currently operative, albeit in a partial and preliminary way. Attention will be chiefly directed to Paul’s exposition of his new-covenant ministry in 2 Corinthians 3. If this purpose is achieved, one aspect of progressive dispensationalism’s treat...

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