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Who were the Nicolaitans?

The Question:

Who were the Nicolaitans?

The Answer:

The term "Nicolaitans" is only mentioned in the second chapter of Revelation in the Bible. That question has been asked for many centuries, and the answer is that we really don’t know for sure!

Revelation 2:6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Revelation 2:14-15 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Revelation 2:20-25 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.

According to Strong’s Concordance: "Nicolaitans in the Greek is Nikolaites {nik-ol-ah-ee'-tace} translated Nicolaitans = "destruction of people", a sect mentioned in Rev. 2:6,15, who were charged with holding the error of Balaam, casting a stumbling block before the church of God by upholding the liberty of eating things sacrificed to idols as well as committing fornication. It comes from Nikolaos {nik-ol'-ah-os} Nicolas = "victor of the people", was a proselyte of Antioch and one of the seven deacons of the church at Jerusalem."

Laos does mean people, but nikos {nee'-kos} can mean to gain victory or to utterly vanquish. So does this mean that the Nicolaitans were trying to vanquish the laity by ruling over them, or were trying to make the laity rulers (that is, having no leadership in the Church)? It seems odd that Strong’s says that Nikolaos means "victory of the people" and that Nikolaites means "destruction of people".

According to the NIV Study Bible the Nicolaitans were: "A heretical sect within the church that had worked out a compromise with the pagan society. They apparently taught that spiritual liberty gave them sufficient leeway to practice idolatry and immorality. Tradition identifies them with Nicolas, the proselyte of Antioch who was one of the first seven deacons in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5), thought the evidence is merely circumstantial. A similar group at Pergamum held the teaching of Balaam (vv.14-15) and some at Thyatira were followers of the woman Jezebel (v.20). From their heretical tendencies it would appear that all three groups were Nicolaitans." (p. 2488)

According to Dakes: "Followers of Nicolaus, a heretic. They are supposed to have been a sect of Gnostics who practiced and taught impure and immoral doctrines, such as the community of wives, that committing adultery and fornication was not sinful, and that eating meats offered to idols was lawful. This was similar to the doctrines of Balaam and Jezebel of Thyatira (v. 6, 14-15, 20)." (p. 304)

In "Revelation Visualized", Cohen and Kirban state: "Some suggest that these were those who first wished to establish a hierarchy in the church. Nikao in the Greek means, "to conquer" and laos, "people" – hence conquerors of the laity. Ignatius and Irenaeus, second century church fathers, however, said that these comprised a group who lived immorally. Christ hated them; we should do likewise." (p. 74)

Well there you have it, several different interpretations of who these people were! Since they were associated with the idolatrous followers of Balaam, and with Jezebel of Thyatira who also taught immorality, it’s safe to assume that the Nicolaitans had something to do with immorality and idolatry – which we know our Lord hates. Because in Revelation 2:14 John mentions the Balaamites, and then says "Likewise the Nicolatians". Beyond that is pure speculation.

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