Who were the Nicolaitans, mentioned in Revelation 2?


We find two references in the Bible about the Nicolaitans, and they are both contained in the second chapter of the book of Revelation. In His message to the church of Ephesus, Jesus Christ says in Revelation 2:6: “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Again, in His message to the church of Pergamos, He says in Revelation 2:15: “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”

Much has been speculated about the origin and exact nature of the Nicolaitans and their teaching.

The Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia states that the Nicolaitans were “a sect… about the character and existence of which there is little certainty. Irenaeus… discusses them but adds nothing… except that ‘they [led] lives of unrestrained indulgence.’ Tertullian refers to them… Hippolytus based his narrative on Irenaeus, though he states that the deacon Nicholas was the author of the heresy and the sect… Clement of Alexandria… exonerates Nicholas, and attributes the doctrine of promiscuity, which the sect claimed to have derived from him, to a malicious distortion of words harmless in themselves… Eusebius [states]… that the sect was short-lived… Another opinion, favoured by a number of authors, is that, because of the allegorical character of the Apocalypse, the reference to the Nicolaitans is merely a symbolic manner of reference…”

The commentary of Barnes points out:

“From the two passages, compared with each other, it would seem that they were alike corrupt in doctrine and in practice, for… their deeds are mentioned, and… their doctrine… In regard to the origin of the name, there [has been the opinion…] that the name was derived from Nicolas, one of the deacons ordained at Antioch [compare Acts 6:5]. Of those who have held this opinion, some have supposed that it was given to them because he became apostate and was the founder of the sect, and others because they assumed his name, in order to give the greater credit to their doctrine. But neither of these suppositions rests on any certain evidence, and both are destitute of probability. There is no proof whatever that Nicolas the deacon ever apostatized from the faith, and became the founder of a sect; and if a name had been assumed, in order to give credit to a sect and extend its influence, it is much more probable that the name of an apostle would have been chosen, or of some other prominent man, than the name of an obscure deacon of Antioch…

“[Others] have supposed that the name Nicolaitans was intended to be symbolical, and was not designed to designate any sect of people, but to denote those who resembled Balaam, and that this word is used in the same manner as the word ‘Jezebel’ [in Revelation 2:20], which is supposed to be symbolical there.

“… it has been supposed that some person now unknown, probably of the name Nicolas, or Nicolaus, was their leader, and laid the foundation of the sect. This is by far the most probable opinion, and to this there can be no objection…”

The commentary continues:

“Neander… supposes that the passage relates simply to a class of persons who were in the practice of seducing Christians to participate in the sacrificial feasts of the pagans, and in the excesses which attended them – just as the Jews were led astray of old by the Moabites, [Numbers] 25… It is generally agreed, among the writers of antiquity who have mentioned them, that they were distinguished for holding opinions which countenanced gross social indulgences.”

The New Bible Commentary:Revised adds the following:

“We gather… that they held the same error as the Balaamites, viz. teaching to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. These were the chief matters condemned by the decree of the apostolic council (Acts 15:29). It is noteworthy that Balaam and Nicolaus have more or less the same etymology (Balaam–‘he has consumed the people’; Nicolaus–‘he overcomes the people’). If this is the teaching so strenuously resisted by the Ephesians… then it must have been widespread indeed.”

The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown gives this interpretation: “Literal eating of idol meats and fornication … were accompanied by SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY AND FORNICATION.”

Unger’s Bible Handbook states: “Some take this symbolism, however, as indicating the origin of clericalism (‘nikeo, ‘conquer,’ and ‘laos,’ ‘people’), making them a group that early favored a clerical system which later developed into the papal hierarchy.”

Similarly the Ryrie Study Bible: “… some understand from the meaning of the name (‘conquering of the people’) that they were a group which promoted a clerical hierarchy…”

James Hastings makes the following interesting remarks about the “Nicolaitans,” in his “Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics”:

“According to pseudo-Dorotheus, there was a Nicolas, bishop of Samaria, who fell into heresy and evil ways under the influence of Simon Magus, and he may have given his name to the sect… the name… has been attached to several later groups… There is evidence at the beginning of the 3rd century of the existence of a Gnostic sect of immoral habits, called therefore Nicolaitans… they shared the worship of the great Mother-goddess, the goddess of heaven…”

In light of what IS known about the Nicolaitans, as set forth above, one does not need to be uncertain about their origin and nature, when considering the most obvious usage of the word–which has been preserved even in our days. We explain the following in our free booklet, “Don’t Keep Christmas,” under the section, “Santa Claus”:

“Closely associated with the giving of presents at Christmas time is the figure of Santa Claus, also called St. Nicholas… According to legend, there was a Catholic priest who allegedly gave gifts to children in December. This priest was supposedly the Bishop of Myra, and he was called ‘Nicholas.’ He reportedly died on December 6, 326 AD. This is the ‘official’ explanation, as to why the ‘day of St. Nicholas’ is celebrated today on December 6. Many historians doubt, however, that there is any legitimacy to this legend. They even question whether such a priest ever existed…

“On the other hand, it is a historical fact that pagans did worship a pagan god that shows great similarities with the modern Santa Claus. This pagan deity was the old Germanic god ‘Wodan.’ He was called ‘Odin’ in Scandinavia. Wodan or Odin was a sun god. According to pagan belief, he gave his life for the world by ‘hanging on a tree’ or a cross for nine nights, after which he was ‘pierced by a spear.’… In Germanic legends, Wodan [or Odin] had a holy tree, and when someone came close to that tree on December 25, he found presents under it. In addition, Wodan’s day on which he was worshipped was December 6. Earl W. Count, B.D., Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, states in ‘4000 Years of Christmas,’ on pp. 11 and 54: ‘We do not really know when the Christ Child… was born; or the time and place when Christmas was first celebrated; or exactly how it was that, over the centuries, a bishop-saint of Asia Minor and a pagan god of the Germans merged to become Santa Claus… Of most interest to us, however, is the fact that Wodan [or Odin] has become – Santa Claus, or, as he is better called, St. Nicholas.’…

“Where did the name ‘Santa Claus,’ or ‘Nicholas,’ come from? In Revelation 2:6, we are introduced to the sect of Nicolaitans which taught and practiced wrong concepts and doctrines… Nicolaus, the founder of the sect of the Nicolaitans… is none other than ‘Nicholas’ or ‘Santa Claus.’ In German, for instance, the similarities of these two names are even more striking. ‘Nicolaus,’ the founder of the ‘Nicolaitans,’ is rendered in German as ‘Nikolaus’ – and ‘Santa Claus’ in German is ‘Nikolaus’ as well.”

Far from being an obscure short-lived ancient sect, the Nicolaitans are well and alive today in the “Christian” world. After all, Christ’s message to the seven churches was not just meant for the seven ancient church congregations at the time of John, but it was also prophetic and addressed to the Church of God throughout its existence until the time of Christ’s return. And, the message is a warning to all true Christians, not to repeat the mistakes which some of the ancient church congregations committed.

The deeds of the Nicolaitans became doctrine, and orthodox Christianity adopted the pagan festivals of Christmas and St. Nicholas Day–in honor of the “founder” of the Nicolaitans–and teaches it today as some of the most important festivals of Christianity. In addition, the unbiblical concept of the worship of the Virgin Mary and her “ascension” to heaven, where she is believed to reside as the queen or “Mother goddess” of heaven–as the early Gnostics worshipped the “great Mother goddess of heaven”–gradually became an established dogma in the Catholic Church. But Jesus said twice in Revelation 2 that He hates the deeds and teachings of the Nicolaitans.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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