Who Were The Nicolaitans?
The stern warning to the church of Ephesus in chapter two of Revelation includes this encouragement that is notoriously difficult to understand.
“Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate”. (Rev 2:6)
To better understand this, we must consult the letter to the congregation in Pergamum as well, since this is the only other place that Nicolaitans are mentioned:
“… you have there some who hold to the teaching of Balaam [a powerful pagan sorcerer], who kept teaching Balak [King of Moab] to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Rev 2:13-15)
It is clear that whoever the Nicolaitans were, they were guilty of these kinds of sins.
Christian Hebraist, John Lightfoot, argued that Nicolaitans was a form of Aramaism. In this case, “Aramaism” is not a Greek word but a “loan” word, originating in Aramaic but spelled Greek.
The Aramaic word ניכולא (nichola) means “Let us eat!“. Thus the Greek word Νικολαΐτης (Nicolaitans) was formed from the Aramaic ניכולא combined with the Greek plural ending ίτης. The basic meaning of Nicolaitans, therefore, would be “let-us-eat-ers”.
The Book of Revelation must never be read in isolation from the Book of Acts and the Pauline letters. In Acts 15 we read the text of a letter authored by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. This letter of encouragement and instruction was sent to gentile Christ-followers who had been delivered from the bondage of paganism (Acts 15:22-29). The conclusion of the letter reads as follows:
“… for it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality.”
Once we realize this etymological connection between “Nicolaitans” and “Let-us-eat-ers,” it is not difficult to see that this aberrant group of Gentile Christ-followers were at odds with the decision of Jerusalem Council and the will of God in Christ. They appear to have set aside the teaching of the apostles given in Acts 15 and were slipping back into their former pagan practices.
The Bible can provide us with truth, but it can also be difficult to decipher! Whether you’re looking for some biblical direction, stumped on scriptural questions, or just want to confirm that you’re already on the right track, continue following us for more biblical interpretations.
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