A Question I Was Asked:

Who Were the Nicolaitans ?

Who were the Nicolaitans as mentioned in Revelation 2:6, 14-15 ?

UK Apologetics Reply:

We cannot be entirely sure as to just who the Nicolaitans were. Some have suggested that they were a heretical sect who followed the teachings of a certain "Nicolas" (whoever that was). One of the meanings of that name (Nicolas or Nicholas) is 'he who conquers the people,' although, of course, that would prove nothing. It is even possible that this Nicolas was one of the deacons of the early church as mentioned in Acts 6:5. It is possible (but very far from certain) that this man became an apostate, denying the true faith and eventually becoming part of a group holding "the doctrine of Balaam" (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14). More likely, this Nicolas was probably not that deacon at all but somebody entirely different. Apparently his followers perverted the doctrine of grace and believed that depraved and sinful behaviour was actually spiritually beneficial, something to be encouraged. Clement of Alexandria says, "They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence." So their teaching apparently perverted grace and replaced liberty in Christ with free license to wilfully sin (that is, to sin wilfully whilst not under temptation). Today theologians would call this antinomianism (the doctrine of free licence and the rejecting of all law).

Whatever the truth, it seems certain that the deeds of the Nicolaitans were an abomination to Christ. They, like various other false teachers, abused solid New Testament teaching and doctrine. (2 Peter 2:15, 19; Jude 1:4). They also caused dangerous divisions in some churches. Jesus commends the church of Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). No doubt the leaders of the Ephesian church were especially vigilant in protecting their flock from various heresies. How incredibly sad that so many modern churches do not follow their fine example!

For the church at Pergamos, on the other hand, Jesus had no commendation, but censure. Unlike the Ephesians, they actually embraced the teachings of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15). Jesus warns them that unless they repent, they are in danger of the judgment that is sure to fall on those who pervert sound Christian doctrine, attacking His church, and attempting to destroy His people. Eventually such people will be dealt with. (Revelation 2:16; 19:15).

The lesson for us is that the Church of the Lord Jesus throughout the ages has been plagued by various heresies, yes, all kinds of heresies, something for everyone. Not all modern heresies are like the indulgent and licentious Nicolaitans, some are narrow, stiff, too quick to condemn others, not understanding that Christians are at various levels of maturity and understanding. Then again, there are those who are too quick and eager to make money, believing that the gospel is fair game for merchandise. See 2 Corinthians 2:17. Still others are too liberal and create a Jesus in their own very liberal modern western image. Yes, all kinds of heresies for all people have entered the Christian world. This is not even to include those cults and sects which often take the name of Jesus but then unashamedly pervert Bible teaching!

There is only one way to be able to quickly recognize false teachings whenever they might appear and that is to be deeply familiar with the Word of God through the diligent and careful study of the Scriptures. One should then be constantly vigilant but, at the same time, careful to avoid any tendency to see evil in every 'nook and cranny.' Some Christians are good at this, others less so. Sound knowledge is required (Bible knowledge, plus knowledge of Christian history and common heresies) coupled with exceptional balance.

Robin A. Brace. October 12th, 2015.