Who were the Nicolaitans?

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As I was reading the Book of Revelation this week, a multitude of questions came to my mind for a blog topic. Although it was very difficult to pick just one question to do a blog on, I decided to figure out just who the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation 2 were, and why they were hated.

“Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6)

“So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Revelation 2:15)

Let’s start with the word Nicolaitans. The Greek word for Nicolaitans is a combination of three other Greek words (Bible Study). The first part of the word is “nikos,” which means “a conquest, victory, triumph, the conquered and by implication, those who are dominate over the defeated.” The second part is the word “laos,” which means “victorious over the people.” The final part is the word “ton,” which simply means “the” (Bible Study). So, put together, the word Nicolaitans means “one who conquers and subdues the people” (LightSource).

Several sources agree that the Nicolaitans were “one of the heretical sects that plagued the churches at Ephesus and at Pergamum” (Theopedia). So it’s clear that the Nicolaitans were a problem in two of the seven churches John was commanded to write to. But what exactly were the teachings/works of this group of people? There are several different theories as to what exactly these people did to inspire the hatred of the Protagonist.

One source states that Nicolaitans are the ones to blame for Christianity’s acceptance of several holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, along with other “unbiblical practices” (Nicolaitanism Today). The same sources goes on to claim that when viewed as a much broader philosophy, Nicolaitanism can be blamed for “the organized and systematic removal of God’s law as a center pillar of the Christian way of life.” So through this, it is easy to see why the Protagonist would be angry with this group of people, and warn about their teachings to those who followed him.

Another source states two different theories. The first is that the group followed the teachings of Nicolas, who was mentioned as possibly being one of the first deacons of the church in Acts 6 (Got Questions). But why would this be a bad thing? Several people seem to agree that Nicolas later went dark side and abandoned his faith in order to join in on the worship of Balaam (Got Questions). As we all know, the Protagonist is not fond of those who worship other gods, as it has been a cause of several hardships for the Hebrew people for hundreds of years by this point. Even more interesting is the “doctrine of Balaam,” which taught followers to “sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality” (Got Questions). This makes it even more apparent as to why Christians are to avoid the Nicolaitans. Personally, I feel like this theory is extremely plausible as to the source of hatred towards the Nicolaitans, especially considering that Balaam is mentioned in the letter to the church at Pergamum. The second theory mentioned is that the Nicolaitans “were not called so from any man, but from the Greek word Nicolah, meaning ‘let us eat,’ as they often encouraged each other to eat things offered to idols” (Got Questions). Whether you believe that they are named after a singular figure or not, it is clear that these teachings went directly against the teachings of the Protagonist, and were to be avoided and hated.

After reading about how the Nicolaitans could have possibly been followers of Balaam, I looked more into what exactly these people did, other than eat food offered to idols and practice sexual immorality. It turns out that the Balaam mentioned here could be the same one mentioned several times in the Old Testament, specifically in the Book of Numbers. By going back and reading a few chapters of Numbers, we learn more about Balaam’s teachings. In Numbers, it is said that Balaam is “a seer who was hired by the king Balak to put a curse on the people of Israel as they were threatening to move into the Holy Land” (National Catholic Register). Interestingly enough, Balak is also mentioned in the letter to the church in Pergamum. Although at first in Numbers Balaam isn’t that bad of a person, later on in Numbers 31:16 it’s said, “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came along the congregation of the LORD.” Now what exactly is this incident of Peor? Back up to the beginning of the chapter and it is made clear that, upon the command of the Protagonist, the Hebrew people went to war against the Midian people, which resulted in the death of many important Midian people, including Balaam. However, after the battle they decided to bring back some things to Moses and the rest of the Hebrew people, including the women and children of Midian. Because they spared the lives of the Midian women and children, Moses was extremely enraged, as he had told them that the Protagonist had commanded that in order to secure the land that was given to them, they must utterly destroy all of those already in the Holy Land. Since this action of the Hebrew army was blamed on Balaam, it is clear that following his teachings was not exactly a good thing to do, even if it seemed harmless.

So it’s clear that the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation are bad news, just like several other groups that were tempting Christians to go the wrong way at the time. Even though there are several different beliefs as to what the Nicolaitans taught and did, they were against the teachings of the Protagonist, so it makes sense that John is commanded to warn the two churches threatened by these teachings.

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