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Further document excerpts regarding: Nicolaitans

-- H.A. Ironside:

"...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 heirarchical 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 the 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."

*Webster defines "clerisy" as: The literati, or well-educated class. *Webster defines "literati" as: Men of letters. This may only mean those who had the ability to read and write. Or, it could also include those who not only could read and write but were advancedly educated in fields of literature and possibly here in theological disciplines, whether doctrinally biblical or unbiblical.

--The following is from The New Bible Commentary.

"The Nicolaitans were reputed from early times to have been the followers of Nicolaos of Antioch, one of the seven (see Acts 6:5). We gather from 2:14,15 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 (see Acts 15:29). It is noteworthy that Balaam and Nicolaos share more or less the same etymology (Balaam--'he has consumed the people'; Nicolaos--'he overcomes the people'). If this is the teaching so strenuously resisted by the Ephesians (see verse 2), then it must have been widespread indeed."

--Revelation by George Eldon Ladd writes:

"The false teachers resisted at Ephesus are further defined as the Nicolaitans. These constituted a heretical sect in the early church about which we know nothing apart from the references in the Revelation. Ancient church fathers, beginning with Irenaeus, speculated that they formed a heretical sect which was founded by Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch (see Acts 6:5) who was one of the seven. But we have no sure information to this effect. John refers again to these false teachers in the letter to Pergamum where he gives us more information about them."

"Although the Pergamum Christians had held fast to Jesus' name and did not renounce their faith in him(sic) under the pressure of threatened persecution, they allowed pagan morals to influence them. A party had arisen in Pergamum which held the teaching of Balaam. Balak, king of Moab, threatened by the Israelites, had invited the prophet Balaam to curse them. Balaam had been restrained by God and to Balak's disgust had blessed rather than cursed (Num. 22-24). Subsequent to this, however, Israel had let herself become involved in harlotry and in the idolatrous worship of Baal or Peor (Num. 25:1-3), and this sin was attributed to the advice of Balaam (Num. 31:16). In our text Balaam is a prototype of those who promote compromise with paganism in idlolatry and immorality."

Ladd goes on to talk about the problem of Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols puchased at market or possibly attending feasts conducted in the temples in honor of the various gods. Ladd believes that since there was a restriction being placed on these believers then the latter was probably at issue ('it is impossible to drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons). Paul had dealt with the problem of eating meats offered to idols in ICor. and had said there was no problem as long as it did not go against the conscience of the believer or causes a block of stumbling. Ladd further states that the words 'practice immorality' may refer to the practice of sexual laxity (Acts 15:20). There may have been a party in Pergamum "which advocated a lax attutude toward pagan customs, including both temple feasts and sexual immorality." Ladd: "The teaching of the Nicolaitans. The language suggests that we are not to think of the Nicolaitans as constututing another sect, but as giving further definition of the 'teaching of Balaam.' It was the Nicolaitan heresy which promoted laxity toward the pagan practices. "Repent then, that is, of laxity toward the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The entire church is summoned to repent for a sin of which only a few were actually guilty. The sin of the Ephesians was harsh intolerance; the sin of the Pergamum church was tolerance and laxity. "To him who conquers a promise of reward is held out, that is, to those who resist the teaching of the Nicolaitans and who remain true to Chtist."

--NICOLAITANS:

Twice mentioned in the NT (Rev 2:6 & 15) as a sect whose works were hated by the ascended Lord and by the Ephesian Church but whose teaching was upheld by some professed Christians of Pergamon, and apparently tolerated by the Church there. Nicolaitan doctrine is associated with the teaching of Balaam,'who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, (inducing them) to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication ' (Rev 2:14). As Nicolaitan teaching is said to be held 'similarly', we may conclude that the Nicolaitans were a kindred antinomian sect, who abused the doctrine, emphasized by St. Paul, of Gentile liberty from the Mosaic Law. In defiance of that apostle's warnings (1 Cor 6:13-20, 8:9&10, 10:28) as well as of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:29) they permitted participation in heathen feasts connected with idolatry and in the fornication which frequently accompanied such feasts. The Nicolaitans represent a more advanced and aggressive state of antinomianism than that which was found in the Corinthian Church. They are organised into a sect with a 'doctrine,' and stand in a nearer relationship to the 'false teachers' referred to in Jude 4,11,12 & 2 Peter 2:1,2,14,15, who 'turned the Grace of God into lasciviousness, 'denied even the Master' (probably through countenancing idolatry), and 'followed the way of Balaam,' 'running riotously in his error.'

It has been doubted by some writers whether any sect actually called Nicolaitans existed. The Bk. of Rev, it is argued, is allegorical, and 'conqueror of the people,' may be regarded as a symbolical name, the Greek equivalent of Balaam which is held to signify either 'destroyer of the people' or 'lord of the people'. But apart from the fact that the two names are not quite equivalent, and that the Balaamites and Nicolatians, although associated, are not identified, the numerous early references to the sect and to its claim to have a real Nicholas as its founder, indicate that the writer of Rev describes heretics really so called. According to Irenaeus, they lived 'lives of unrestrained indulgence', teaching that 'adultery and eating things sacrificed to idols' are a matter of 'indifference'. Clement of Alexandria speaks of their souls as 'buried in the mire of vice'. Tertullian stigmatizes them as destroying the happiness of sanctity in their maintenance of lust and luxery, 'those falsely-called Nicolatians' are characterised as 'impudent in uncleanness'. 'Ignatius' (longer recension) brands them as 'impure lovers of pleasure', and as 'addicted to calumnious speeches. So far, we have merely an echo of what we read in Rev; but other early references indicate that, in addition to immorality, the Nicolatians were tainted with incipient Gnosticism. Irenaeus states that the Cerinthian doctrines of a Demiurge distinct from the Supreme God, and of a Doketic Incarnation, had already, before Cerinthus, been disseminated by the Nicolatians, whom accordingly he describes as a 'fragment of the Gnosis falsely so-called'. Tertullian writes of the Cainite Gnostics of his time as modern Nicolatians. Hippolytus also and Philastrius include the Nicolatians among Gnostics.

For the relation between the Nicolatians and Nicolas of Antioch (see Nicholas). There appears to be no sufficient reason for rejecting the traditionary explanation of the connexion as supplied by Clem. of Alex. (without accepting all details). We know, from other instances, the anxiety of early heretics (e.g. the Basilidians and the Valentinians) to father their views upon some apostle or associate of the apostles. At the same time it is possible that a different Nicolas was the real founder of the sect, and was confusd afterwards with the better known 'deacon'. Cassian states that some in his time (A.D. 420) held that the founder was some other Nicolas; and in the "Lives of the Prophets, Apostles etc., ascribed (erroneously) to Dorotheus, bishop of Tyre, in the end of the 3rd Century, Nicolas of Antioch is identified with a bishop Nicolas of Samaria who is said to have become a heretic in company with Simon Magus. Ps.-Doroth, (c. 6th Century) is not a trustworthy authority; but the connexion with the 'father of Gnosticism' is suggestive; and since Nicoals of Antioch is nowhere else referred to as a bishop, or as associated with Samaria, the tradition may indicate the existance of another Nicolas, with whom the pseudo-Dorotheus confounded Nicolas of Antioch

Notes:

  • The supposition that the reference in Rev to the Nicolatians embraces a covert attack on St. Paul or Paulinism (Baur, Renan Volmar, and others) is foreclosed by the apostles own testimony, although it is possible that certain Nicolaitans professed to be his followers. St. Paul, while not condemning those who bought in the market, or partook of, at an ordinary friendly meal, food whlch mlght have been previously sacrificed to idols is careful to dlsallow any such participation as would either involve the countenance of idolatry, or cast a stumbling block before any Christian Brother (See Farrar, 'Early Days of Christianity').

  • This view, originally hinted at by Cocceius was first enunciated by Heumann who adopts the interpretaion 'destroyer' and thenVitringa who interprets Ballam as 'lord of the people'. Trench accepting hte theory that the name Nicolatians in Rev is symbolic, supposes that 'one of the innumerable branches of the Gnostic heresy, springing up at a later day, assumed this name which they found ready-made for them in the Apocalypse'. The Gnosticism of the Nicolatians has been recently used by Voelter, who associates them with the Carpocratians, as an argument in favour of assigning the seven epistles in the book of Rev to about A.D. 140; but the germs of Gnosticism existed admittedly in the Apostles Age; and it is quite natural for writers of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries to apply the name to heretics, who flourished before its adoption as a formal designation. The incipient Gnosticism of the Nicolatians can be denied only on the assumption tha Ireneas, Tertillian and Hippolytus simply inferred its existance from the immoral outcome of Nicolatian doctrine.

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