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A popular view of Jesus is that His being all love means that He cannot hate anyone or anything. In light of this, Revelation 2:6 has a very curious statement from Jesus:

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. [KJV]

They are mentioned again in Revelation 2:15. This time, Jesus specifies that He hates their doctrine.

So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Who were the Nicolaitans, and what are their beliefs and actions that bring forth Jesus' hatred?

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There are several lines of speculation as to who the Nicolaitans were, but no real evidence. It does seem that they were an early Christian sect, of whom John of Patmos says the Lord disapproved.

H. A. Ironside (http://www.a-voice.org/library/nicolait.htm) says a commonly held view is that they were followers of Nicolaos, mentioned along with Stephen as others as being one of the first deacons appointed to the Church. According to this hypothesis, Nicolaos went his own way, leading a Christian sect given over to false doctrines or immoral behaviour.

G. R. S. Mead, in Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?, points out that Nicolaos is etymologically equivalent in Greek to Balaam in Hebrew. Revelation 2:14 refers to the doctrine of Balaam just before once again mentioning the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in verse 2:15. The author may see the Nicolaitans as similar to the followers of Balaam, who supposedly allowed their followers to eat food sacrificed to idols. Irenaeus

The second-century Church Father, Irenaeus combines these views in Against Heresies:

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, as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

If the issue is the eating of food sacrificed to pagan idols, it would seem that Christian doctrine had moved on since the time of the apostle Paul, who expressed indifference to eating food the Corinthians thought might have been sacrificed to pagan idols. In 1 Corinthians 10:27-28, Paul tells them that when offered food they should eat it without enquiring whether it had been sacrificed to idols. Only if their host actually volunteers that the food had been sacrificed to idols should they decline to eat it. The inference Paul makes is that if Christians knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols, they are assenting to the sacrifices, rather than any spiritual concern.

Others have read this as an untranslated Greek word meaning 'rulers over the people,' so that the Nicolaitans were Christian leaders who imposed a hierarchical order in the church and sought to lord it over those below them in the pecking order. If this is the meaning, it foreshadows the actions of the hierarchical Church of later centuries.

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  • I wonder what you mean by "rather than any spiritual concern", what could be more spiritual than: "by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ" Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 7:55
  • @JackDouglas I fully agree that Paul was concerned for the spiritual welfare of his Christian communities, but I don't see this citation in my Bible, at or near 1 Cor 10:27-28. If what I said was not clear, I meant only that Paul did not see the mere fact of eating sacrificed food as causing spiritual harm - only the knowledge that it has been sacrificed. So, Paul was "indifferent" to eating things sacrificed to idols, and speaking for himself: "If I partake thankfully, why am I reviled for that over which I give thanks." His advice is not to cause offence (10:31-32) by enquiring. Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 19:35
  • It's from 1Cor8, the beginning of the train of thought about food sacrificed to idols. I don't think Paul meant it any differently than Irenaeus did. I think Irenaeus also was only concerned about those who knowingly ate food sacrificed to idols with indifference. See this page from a book on Google books for example. Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 19:45
  • Nicolaitans sounds like modern day prosperity victory gospel. Nico = victory. I am picturing the TVangelists yelling "victory" and "prosperity" as the requisite evidence of being "in the presence of lord".
    – Cynthia
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 12:17
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The International Standard Bible Encylopedia

A sect or party of evil influence in early Christianity, especially in the 7 churches of Asia.

As you mentioned well in your question, this is a group that appears twice in Revelation (2:6, 14-15) ...

... where it is equated with a group holding "the doctrine of Balaam," who taught Israel "to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality." (from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

Also, the New Unger's Bible Dictionary, quoting Imperial Bible Dictionary

The general voice of antiquity accuses them of holding the lawfulness of eating things offered to idols, and of mixing in and encouraging idolatrous worship; and as they are charged with denying God to be the creator of the world, and attributing its existence to other powers, they could unquestionably, on such grounds, permit themselves so to act, and thus far it is probable that the accusation is not ill-founded. The community of women was another doctrine which they are said to have adopted, and their conduct seems to have been in the highest degree licentious

Even though we might never know the origin of the Nicolaitans, it's believed, without bulletproof evidence, that they were founded by Nicolas from Antioch referred in Acts 6:5 (NASB)

The announcement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

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As previously mentioned, the name of the sect called Nicolaitans was most likely started by a man named Nicolas of Antioch, who had been appointed a deacon by the apostles in Acts 6:5. However, what he later taught was in direct conflict with the letter that the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem wrote to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia that was delivered by Paul, Barnabas, Judas Barsabbas, and Silas. It’s generally believed that the Council at Jerusalem was held ca. 48-50 CE and the letter delivered soon after. Here’s what they wrote in the letter according to Acts 15:23-29 ESV.

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The following description of the Nicolaitans was written by Ireneus, who was the bishop of Lugdunum, the present city of Lyons, France. The following quote comes from his book, Against Heresies, written very early in church history, about 180 CE.

“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 practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” – Ireneus (ca. 130 - ca. 202 CE), Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 26, Doctrines of Cerinthus, the Ebionites, and Nicolaitanes

A reference to people practicing what the Nicolaitans taught is found in both in 2 Peter 2 (commonly dated 65-68 CE) and in Jude (commonly dated to about 65 CE).

Excerpt from 2 Peter 2:

They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness . . . For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

Excerpt from Jude:

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ . . . Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves . . . These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

In summary from all these sources, the Nicolaitans promoted the following:

• Money motivated (as was Balaam)

• Sexual immorality and lewdness

• Idols, ritualistic, and superstitious religious practices

• Teachings not found in the Bible

• Denying and disowning the Messiah Jesus as our only Master and Lord

Their general behavior was arrogant, self-righteous, and manipulative. Sound familiar?

Hope this helps.

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The theory offered in my own book is based on the name. It combines the Greek words NIKOS (victory) and LAOS (people). I've seen the suggestion that this nickname accuses them of trying to be victorious over God's people. On the assumption that they chose this name for themselves, I'm more inclined to see it as "We are the people of victory".

I see possible clues in 1 Corinthians, where Paul is apparently quoting and criticisng claims made by some of the congregation; "All of us possess knowledge" (ch8 v1), "All things are lawful,for me" (ch6 v12). Commentators think they can see an air of smugness and complacency in these remarks, a sense that people with such knowledge can afford to ignore conventional restraints.

I suggest there could be a direct continuity between this school of thought and the attitude of self-indulgent willingness to compromse with immorality and idolatry that we find in the Nicolaitans.It would cross the Aegean easily enough, and that sense of superiority could lead them to the label "victorious people".

I suggest also that the followers of Balaam and Jezebel have the same origin. Perhaps their sense of superior wisdom prompts the latter group to talk knowingly about "the deep things of God", which John himself reverses into "deep things of Satan".

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What Jesus "hates" about the Nicolaitans is their claim that they follow Him, but lived contrary to His teachings. They followed false doctrines - perversions of His truth: while believing they had been "saved" in His name and by His blood and were eternally secure by His grace. Jesus mentions similar people in Matthew 7:21-23 - who don't understand why they have been denied entering the Kingdom of heaven - claiming they have prophesied, cast out devils, and have done many wonderful works in His name. But Jesus rejects them, says He never knew them, and demands they "depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 3:41
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    There is no indication in this answer as to the source of the information within it. We need referenced scriptures as evidence, please.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 4:37

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