The Doctrine of the Nicolaitans
During bible study one night I wanted to explore Revelations for some insight on visions. This lead me to read about John’s time on an island and the vision he had. That then led me to Revelations 2:15.
Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. ‘ Revelation 2:15 NKJV
After reading this scripture, for the first time in my life I felt curious about “What is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” and why does Christ hate this?
Sure, I yielded to my curiosity and the leading of the holy spirit to edify myself in the pursuit of knowledge. What I found was not what I expected. As I was more prepared for something along the lines of Sodom and Gomorrah.
As I continued my research and came across the classification of types of evil. “Evil has been classified under three different headings: moral, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical.”
Further in my studies, I started to learn more about ecclesiastical evil, which in essence is” a doctrine or practice that sets aside the scriptural functioning of the church, the ecclesia. For example, the papacy is an ecclesiastical evil.”
So, I am seeing terms like clergy and papacy and that got me thinking…
Is this referring to the Roman Catholic church?
On the surface it is not obvious nor would you make this inference without deeper research. This is why it is important to read the bible with the help of the holy spirit, so you can be led into deeper understanding.
Below, I share an in-depth write up, from the Christian Treasury, on the topic. It explains in greater detail, better than I could on this topic.
The Deeds And Doctrine of The Nicolaitanes
- The deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. – Revelation 2:6
A study of the deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitanes provide us instruction. The Spirit of God would have us hear, even in these last days of the Church’s history, what He saith unto the churches. In the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ gave a message to the churches, a message which each individual is responsible to hear and obey.
- He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Revelation 3:22
If we ignore what the Spirit of God has spoken to the churches, it will be to our confusion and departure from the truth of God’s word. The evils that the Church faces today were answered during the apostolic period of the church’s history.
Evil has been classified under three different headings: moral, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical.
- Most are familiar with moral evil, such as fornication.
- Doctrinal evil is often erroneous teachings on either the person or work of Christ. The saints of God may recognize moral and doctrinal evil, but they often fail to see the gravity of ecclesiastical evil.
- Ecclesiastical evil consists of a doctrine or practice that sets aside the scriptural functioning of the church, the ecclesia. For example, the papacy is an ecclesiastical evil. The papacy sets a person in a position of power over the church to rule as a lord.
This ecclesiastical evil sets aside the Headship of Christ and the leading of the Spirit of God in the assembly. And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Ephesians 1:22
What is Nicolaitanism?
First, the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes are only mentioned twice in scripture, both in the second chapter of Revelation.
- But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:6
- But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. Revelation 2:14
- So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Revelation 2:15
What began with the deeds of the Nicolaitanes during the period of the Ephesian Church soon developed into a doctrine during the period of the Pergamos church. Afterwards, Thyatira arose and gave full expression to the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, an evil that the Lord Jesus Christ hates.
It is men seeking lordship over the assembly of God.
- Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3
- A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? Jeremiah 5:30-31
The word, Nicolaitans, means to be victorious over the people, that is, to conquer the people or laity. It is a combination of two Greeks words: nikos, to conquer and laos, the people or laity.
Strong’s # 3534 nikos (nee’-kos); from 3529; a conquest (concretely), i.e. (by implication) triumph: KJV — victory. (DIC)
Strong’s # 2992 laos (lah-os’); apparently a primary word; a people (in general; thus differing from 1218, which denotes one’s own populace): KJV — people. (DIC)
It is instructive that “the doctrine of Balaam” is mentioned with “the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.”
Balaam is a Hebrew word having a meaning similar to the Greek word, Nicolaitanes. Balaam means to “destroy the people.” It is a combination of two Hebrew words: bala, to destroy and am, a people.
Strong’s # 1104 bala` (baw-lah’); a primitive root; to make away with (specifically by swallowing); generally, to destroy: KJV — cover, destroy, devour, eat up, be at end, spend up, swallow down (up). (DIC)
Strong’s # 5971 `am (am); from 6004; a people (as a congregated unit); specifically, a tribe (as those of Israel); hence (collectively) troops or attendants; figuratively, a flock: KJV — folk, men, nation, people. (DIC)
The similarity of the Greek word, Nicolaitan, to the Hebrew word, Balaam, is noted in A.R. Fausset, The Critical and Expository Bible Cyclopaedia.
Michaelis explains Nicolas (conqueror of the people) is the Gr. for the Heb. Balaam (destroyer of the people, bela’am) 1
Nicolaitanism is the subjugation of the assembly or “the laity” by a hierarchical order who lord it over the assembly as if it were their own possession.
H.A. Ironside in his book entitled, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, gives a clear statement of the ecclesiastical evil of Nicolaitanism.
In close connection with this we have the introduction of wrong principles within—the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. Others have often pointed out that this is an untranslated Greek word meaning, “Rulers over the people.” Nicolaitanism is really clerisy—the subjugation of those who were contemptuously styled “the laity” by a hierarchical order who lorded it over them as their own possessions, forgetting that it is written, “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”
In the letter to Ephesus the Lord commended them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, those who, like Diotrephes, loved to have the preeminence among them. But, in Pergamos letter, we have Nicolaitanism designated as a distinct system of teaching. It was then that clerisy was accepted as of divine origin, and therefore something that must be bowed to. 2 (emphasis added)
W.R. Newell taught that Nicolaitanism is a system where individuals rule over the assembly.
Whereas, it seems probable that the name Nicolaitans, as we say elsewhere, holds its own interpretation: —laity-bossing clerisy. 3 (emphasis added)
We would in this way find “Nicolaitan” derived from nikao, to conquer; and laos, people; and the meaning, rulers of the laity, indicating that dire clerisy which very early sprang up. 4
The well-known Scofield Bible has this note which further confirms the ecclesiastical evil denoted by Nicolaitanism.
From nikao, “to conquer,” and laos, “the people,” or “laity.” There is no ancient authority for a sect of the Nicolaitanes. If the word is symbolic it refers to the earliest form of the notion of a priestly order, or “clergy,” which later divided an equal brotherhood (Mt. 23. 8), into “priests” and “laity.” What in Ephesus was “deeds” (2.6) had become in Pergamos a “doctrine” (Revelation 2.15). 5
This shows the tragic result of Nicolaitanism.
The Headship of Christ over the assembly is practically denied, and the superintendence of the Spirit of God is set aside. The authority of Christ in the midst of His assembly is ignored. The leading of the Spirit of God in the assembly is called rebellion and schismatic activity by those who follow in the error of Nicolaitanism.
An old error of clerisy teaches that the angel of a church was the ruler of the church. As a historical note, in the year 1792, there was a large inn in the town of Nottingham that was named “The Angel,” because it was such a popular lodging place for the clergy. The following quotation is from the story of the life of William Carey.
Seventeen ministers from the twenty-four associated churches assembled in 1792 and took part. Other silent ones were also, perhaps, present. ‘Messengers’ were few by reason of the distance. Even ‘College Lane’ excused itself for sending only its pastor.
They put up at ‘The Angel’—these ‘angels’ of the churches—the largest inn of the wide market-place. 6 (emphasis added)
There is little historical evidence for a sect of the Nicolaitanes. Since Nicolas has the same meaning as Nicolaitanes, the early Church Fathers often taught that Nicolas of Acts 6:5 was the founder of the sect of Nicolaitanes. The immoral characteristics attributed to the Nicolaitanes were inferred because the word “also” is found in Revelation 2:15. Since the doctrine of Balaam was characterized by immoral practice, they thought that the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was “also” characterized by immorality.
In the very long treatise on heresies, a treatise of 252 pages of small type, Irenaeus wrote very little on the Nicolaitanes. His meager discussion of the Nicolaitanes is as follows,
3. The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus:
- “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” 7
It is Revelation 2:14 and writings of Irenaeus and others that provide evidence for the immoral nature of the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.
After the Church’s persecution during the Smyrna era, Pergamos arose, making Christianity respectable in the world. Bishops and prelates vied for positions of power in the church. They lorded in ease, and this resulted a low moral state.
These leaders engaged in and permitted indulgence in sin.
William Kelly wrote the following,
The essence of Nicolaitanism seems to have been the abuse of grace to the disregard of Christian or even moral practice. … When persons maintain that unholiness may be tolerated because no man is free from sin, it is Antinomianism; and I believe it to be the very principle of the Nicolaitans. 8
Hamilton Smith held the same view as William Kelly,
This, again, opened the door to Nicolaitanism, which apparently was the Antinomian doctrine that held the practical life of godliness to be of little account, seeing the believer is justified by faith. This was turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. 9
Lehman Strauss believed that the doctrine of Balaam holds that grace permits immorality in the church. In his book entitled, The Book of Revelation: Outlined Studies, he stated that the church is responsible to judge evil. Grace gives no license for immorality in the assembly. In his discussion on the address to Pergamos, he stated the following in the section on the doctrine of Balaam.
Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 for a lesson in church discipline. Paul did not wink at that flagrant example of incest. The member of the church at Corinth who was guilty of immoral relations with his stepmother, and who would not repent, was purged out. 10
After his discussion on the doctrine of Balaam, he wrote the ensuing on Nicolaitanism and noted its character of ecclesiastical evil.
Nicolaitanism is fully accepted. It is here to stay. That which was mere “deeds” in Ephesus (2:6), became “doctrine” in Pergamos (2:15), and is today “dogma.” The first seeds of the Roman Catholic Church were sown as far back as the fourth century. Today the world is ready to accept the Roman Pope and be subject to him. 11
He distinguished between the moral evil of Balaam and the religious (ecclesiastical) evil of Nicolaitanism.
But He calls upon His own to accept His principle of separation, thereby refusing to compromise with either moral evil [Balaam] or religious error [Nicolaitanism]. (text in brackets added) 12
These evils have caused the Church much harm. We would do well to remember that it is the Church of God, not the Church of man. It is not man’s organization for him to control as he sees fit.
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 1 Cor 1:2
Ted J. McDonald
October 6, 1992
1. A.R. Fausset, The Critical and Expository Bible Cyclopaedia, Hodder and Stoughton, London, England, 1899, p. 509.
2. H.A. Ironside, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ, 1920, (32 printing, 1976), p. 48-49.
3. W.R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1935 (Reprinted, 1981), p. 49.
4. ibid p. 51.
5. C.I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible: The Holy Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1917 edition, p. 1332.
6. S.P. Carey, William Carey, George H. Doran Co., New York, NY, 1923 (third edition, 1924), p. 79.
7. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Irenaeus Against Heresies: Book I, In: Vol I, Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, (The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325), W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI., 1885 (Reprinted, 1989), p. 352.
8. W. Kelly, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, G. Morrish, London, England, 1861, p. 35.
9. H. Smith, The Revelation: An Expository Outline, Wm. C. Reid, Edinburgh, Scotland, p. 21.
10. L. Strauss, The Book of Revelation: Outlined Studies, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ, 1964 (ninth printing, 1979), p. 52.
11. ibid p. 56.
12. ibid p. 57.
Source: Christian Treasury.
About the writer:
Poetess Denise N. Fyffe is a published author of over 30 books and writer for over ten years. She is a General and Copy Writer for online publications such as Revealing the Christian Life, The Island Journal, Express Writers, among others.
Get your copy of Declarations for my Sons and Daughters