doctrine of Christ, Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, Kingdom of God, Ministry, sound doctrine

Who were the Nicolaitans, and what did their doctrine consist of?


The question we have posed as a basis for today’s teaching has the sole purpose of discovering the transcendence of the group for our days, and how far we can be exposed to the same influence.

The Nicolaitans are mentioned on only two occasions in the entire Bible, specifically, in the book of Revelation; both mentions have to do with the messages of rebuke to the churches of Ephesus and Pergamum. In the message to the church of Ephesus, it is emphasized that Jesus abhors the deeds of the Nicolaitans.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;…     6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Revelation 2:1-6

In the message to the church of Pergamum, the emphasis is to denounce the active permanence of the group within the church, and the acceptance of its doctrine as a parallel doctrine to the Gospel of Jesus.

12And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14 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. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Revelation 2:12-15

In both messages, the Nicolaitans are presented as a heretical and idolatrous group, whose doctrine is associated with doctrine of demonic influence.

The messages to the seven churches of Revelation have a very particular characteristic regarding the way of presenting the content of the message; five of the seven messages are messages of reproof, so the introduction is not only a preamble but the point of correction towards which the church is intended to be redirected. The way each message is introduced in itself establishes the yardstick by which the action-situation of the church is judged.

The introduction of each message is elaborated to establish doctrinal comparison between the Gospel, the position of the church in question, and the heretical platform of the group operating within it; for example, in the message to the church of Ephesus, the introduction exposes that the deeds of the Nicolaitans are practices based on occult knowledge.

Let us see how the process of doctrinal comparison works. The introduction states that Jesus, the sender of the message, walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (verse 1). The Gospel, inasmuch as it is the Good News of Jesus, operates also from the Light, that is, from the midst of the golden candlesticks; the text of the message also states that Jesus abhors the deeds of the Nicolaitans, therefore, and here comes the doctrinal comparison, the Nicolaitans do not walk in the midst of the Light; therefore, the deeds of the Nicolaitans are practices based on occult knowledge.

Thus, likewise, in the message to the church of Pergamum, the expression with which the message is introduced, the one with the sharp two-edged sword (verse 12), shows, in principle, that the teaching of Jesus-the Gospel-is the ‘purity’ of God’s expression; the sharp two-edged sword is precisely the Word of God.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The introduction of the message is a doctrinal comparison that denounces that everything that is not built on the Word of God is a false work, so again, because Jesus abhors the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, it means that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is based on a magical-esoteric-mythological syncretism, and not on the Word of God.

These doctrinal denunciations, proper to the messages to the seven churches of Asia, can also be confirmed by the requirements of the apostle Paul to Timothy, when the apostle decides to leave Timothy in Ephesus to correct those in the church who taught ‘different doctrine’.

3As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

1st. Timothy 1:3-4

It was not a simple doctrinal ‘discrepancy’, or a different way of ‘interpreting’ the sacred text; it was distorted doctrine imported from the same mythical sources that gave rise to the cults of the Greek mythological gods. In the instructions given to Timothy, the apostle takes time to highlight the heretical power against which Timothy must confront; note how the apostle in his instruction to Timothy uses three terms to alarm about the heretical situation that looms over the church of Ephesus. First, he stresses that the heretical doctrines are, ‘other doctrine’ (τεροδιδασκαλεν: advocates another doctrine: verse. 3), completely different from the doctrine of the Gospel; second, he discovers the mythical source from which they are taking the content of their doctrine: ‘fables and endless genealogies’ (μυθοις και γενεααλογιαις απεραντοις: myths and genealogies without an end: verse. 4); thirdly, he denounces that such doctrines have been raised in ‘blasphemy’ against the Gospel: always in the same chapter, the word, ‘blaspheme’ (βλασφημεν: curse: verse. 20), in denouncing the work of Hymenaeus and Alexander.

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is a heretical doctrine, a doctrine based on fables and mythological genealogies, whose purpose is to distort the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

In the other of his epistles to Timothy, the apostle refers to the work of Hymenaeus and Philetus, thus understanding that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is a demonic work that eats away like gangrene.

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

1st. Timothy 4:7

16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus; 18 who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

2nd. Timothy 2:16-18

Additionally, it is necessary to keep in mind that in the region where the seven churches mentioned in the Revelation were located there was a tendency to worship mythology, in the book of Acts of the Apostles it is emphasized that both in the city of Ephesus and in the city of Pergamum they worshipped Diana and the image of Jupiter,

26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:….       35 And when the town clerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?

Acts 19:26-35

The message to the church of Pergamum establishes precisely how much mythological and idolatrous worship had been established within the city.

I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Revelation 2:13

This was the real spiritual danger that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans represented for the church, that is why in Jesus’ message to the church of Pergamum, Jesus demands ‘repentance’ (verse 16).

There is still an additional characteristic that we must point out with respect to the Nicolaitans, and it arises from the expression, thou hast those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (verse 15), an expression with which the tolerance that the church of Pergamum has maintained with respect to the group is denounced.

The expression, thou hast those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans; in Greek the expression appears as follows: χεις ἐκεῖ κρατοντας τὴν διδαχὴν τῶν Νικολαϊτῶν. Note carefully the two words marked in bold, both of which are translated into English as, thou hast those who hold; in Greek, the first word, χεις, means ‘to have’ in the sense of ‘belonging’, but the second word, κρατοντας, means ‘to hold’ in spite of, or simply, to retain. The term appears in use three times in the same message:

13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast (κρατεῖς) my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold (κρατοῦντας) 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. 15 So hast thou also them that hold (κρατοῦντας) the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Revelation 2:13-15

This expression appears three times, the first, to refer to those who retain faith in Jesus: you retain my name (και κρατεις το ονομα μου: verse 13); the second, to refer to those who retain the doctrine of Balaam, (εκει κρατουντας την διδαχην βαλαααμμ: verse 14); And the third, to refer to those who retain the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, (κρατουντας την διδαχην των νικολαιτων: verse 15).

The repeated use of the expression, retain (κρατέω), shows us that in spite of God working singular wonders by the hands of Paul, in Ephesus, and throughout the province of Asia, according to Acts chapter 19, many of those integrated in the church of Pergamum, particularly, retained their mythological practices in parallel with the Gospel. This repeated use shows that the church of Pergamum was formed by three doctrinal phalanxes that competed in authority among themselves.

The Nicolaitans were disbanded by Paul’s apostolic proclamation in Ephesus, but in Pergamum there were those who retained their practices. There are indications of this in the way the writer of the Acts of the Apostles writes of the massive conversion of many of those who had practiced occultism:

But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. 10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:…     17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Acts 19:9-19

The two years of the Apostle Paul’s stay in Ephesus represented the greatest geographical advance for the Gospel in the entire region where the seven churches mentioned in Revelation were located, the text is conclusive in confirming that all those who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Πεερίεργα, the term that is translated as ‘curious arts’ refers to occult sciences, otherwise, why would they have had to burn the books on the subject. The use of this term in the wording of the account of what happened in Ephesus about the dark arts, in Acts 19, reveals to us that the deeds of the Nicolaitans also contemplated ‘divination’ based on the magical-esoteric-mythological-mythological-cabalistic syncretism of the customs of the region. By the fact of presenting themselves in parallel with those who retained the doctrine of Balaam, the Nicolaitans also enjoyed a pseudo-prophetic prestige.

The account of what happened to Paul, in his encounter with a girl given to divination, in Philippi, is a clear sample of the tendency among the pagan population of the area regarding the use of fortune tellers.

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

Acts 16:16

The Nicolaitans did not arise after this stage of Paul’s proclamation of the Kingdom in Ephesus, they were his contemporaries, for we see in the message to the churches of Ephesus and Pergamum, in the Apocalypse, the claim of Jesus for having allowed such doctrines in their midst; the message is directed to reconvince them about their negligent doctrinal attitude that has allowed, in the case of the church of Ephesus, the loss of their first love, and in the case of the church of Pergamum, the active permanence of the doctrine of Balaam, and of the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.

I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

(verses 2-4)

Leaving the first love is a Hebrew expression that denounces the infidelity of a husband towards the wife of his youth to give himself to pleasures in fornication.

13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. 14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

Malachi 2:13-15

To leave the first love of God is to have abandoned the covenants of loyalty on which the Work of God was developed in Ephesus: and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds

In the case of the message to the church of Pergamum, the claim emphasizes that the doctrinal negligence of the church allowed Satan to retake the city again:

I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth…    16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 

(verses 13-16)

In summary, the Nicolaitans was a heretical group, emerged as part of the mythological religiosity of the pagan society of the region; chapter 19 of Acts of the Apostles refers that the foundation of the group’s practices was based on the writings of sorcery, witchcraft and divination that were circulating at that time, and that by the account of Acts of the Apostles, were of great acceptance among the population of the region.

Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

Acts 19:19

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans consisted in the search for spiritual purity, but based on rituals of exorcism by magical-pagan formulations imported from the ancient practices of sorcery and witchcraft of mythological literature. Chapter 19 of the Acts of the Apostles presents us with a situation that refers precisely to this practice:

13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

Acts 19:13-17

As for the character of the name of the group, in principle, the Nicolaitans are not the ‘followers of Nicholas’; the name does not arise by appropriation of the name of a founder, their name obeys the practice they developed; the above can be clearly seen by the way the message to the church of Ephesus is written, in it is described that Jesus abhors the ‘deeds’ of the Nicolaitans (τα εργα των νικολαιτων).

The name Nicolaitans (νικολαιτων) is formed from the Greek term νικος (G3529), late form of νίκη (G3529), a term meaning ‘victory’; see Matthew 12:20: εις νικος την κρισιν: till he send forth judgment unto victory. In 1st. Corinthians 15:54-57: κατεποθη ο θανατος εις νικος: Death is swallowed up in victory (54)… που σου αδη το νικος: O grave, where is thy victory? (55)… τω δε θεω χαρις τω διδοντι ημιν το νικος: But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory (57). In 1st. John 5:4: και αυτη εστιν η νικη η νικησασα τον κοσμμον: and this is the victory that overcometh the world.

In the Septuagint (LXX), the term is also used in the same way, grammatically speaking, which demonstrates the primary value of the term within the Greek language; in its English translation the term additionally assumes the meaning of ‘perpetual’, and it is because the term denotes splendor. Thus in 2 Samuel 2:26, Μὴ εἰς νῖκος καταφάγεται ἡ ῥομφαία: Shall the sword devour forever?. In Job 36:7: καὶ μετὰ βασιλέων εἰς θρόνον καὶ καθιεῖ αὐτοὺς εἰς νῖκος: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them forever. In Amos 1:11: καὶ τὸ ὅρμημα αὐτοῦ ἐφύλαξεν εἰς νῖκος: and his anger did tear perpetually. In Amos 8:7: εἰς νῖκος πάντα τὰ ἔργα ὑμῶν: Surely I will never forget any of their works.

As can be seen, the Nicolaitans are not the followers of Nicholas, but the celebrants of victories (achievements, triumphs, merits, reaching goals, etc.); the name is derived from Greek mythology, for, Νίκη (Nike) is the goddess of victory. In any case, if one wants to understand Nicolaitans as ‘followers of’, it would be followers of the goddess of victory.

The deeds of the Nicolaitans did not consist of a mere celebration for victories, or a celebration for achievements, is that their practice was associated with food, just like those who retained the doctrine of Balaam, only the food consisted of a festival of victory by means of a banquet (Παναθηναια: panatenea), originally dedicated to the goddess Athena (Αθηνη. Minerva), and later held parallel to the Olympics.

The Nicolaitans, or followers of the goddess of victory, in terms of their deeds and heretical doctrine, were those who participated in the festival of victory that was celebrated parallel to the Olympics in honor of Zeus; as can be seen, the deeds of the Nicolaitans were founded on mythological knowledge, as Paul warned Timothy, and they were a very strong phalanx within the church of Pergamum.

Before concluding, I want to give an additional explanation regarding the difference between the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the doctrine of Balaam; the emphasis of both groups had to do with partaking of the ‘ceremonial meals’; the difference was that those who retained the doctrine of Balaam participated in all the annual festivals in honor of the mythological gods of the Greek pantheon, and ate their ceremonial meals; hence the reference to Balaam, who advised Balaac to make the ‘daughters of Moab’ integrate the children of Israel into their festival dedicated to their gods.[3]  The doctrine of the Nicolaitans, on the other hand, did not participate in all the festivals, participated only in the festival of victory, which was the greatest celebration of all the festivals, and was celebrated with a banquet dedicated to Zeus, Satan, in the message to the church of Pergamum.

Both groups, although they were part of the Christian church of Pergamum, participated in the same way in the mythological events, and ate without hesitation the ceremonial food in honor of the gods. The heretical aspect of both doctrines consisted not only in mythological ‘knowledge’, it consisted in participating in the festivals consecrated to mythological deities, and in partaking of the food dedicated to them; these facts established links with the demons.

In the epistle to the Philippians there is an instruction that if read without taking into account the religious and mythological aspect of the Greek regions of that time, is not understood; it is necessary to understand that the apostle is denouncing the practices of some who, being within the church, participated in the same mythical customs in honor of the mythological gods.

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ19 whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Philippians 3:18-19

The apostle is not referring to a mere taste for food, much less to gluttony for food; the apostle is denouncing the fact that some want to be part of the church, but maintain their ancient customs of participating in mythological festivals. Whose god is the belly, simply means, to partake of the table of mythological deities (demons); in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

1st. Corinthians 10:21

Does all this have any repercussions for our times? Many will say no, because when a person is immersed in a situation they cannot see how serious it is until they get out of it. The reality of the case is that yes, all of this has repercussions for us. There are entire communities of believers who ‘retain’ the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.

In our days we still have mythological festivals, and as in those times, they are all celebrated with ceremonial meals. The day of love (day of friendship, among Christians, to soften its effect), consecrated to eros; Christmas, a pagan feast celebrated with a decorated tree, with gifts and with the fantasy and magic of Santa Claus; Easter, although with Christian emphasis, was actually chosen in the calendar to coincide with the spring equinox, it is therefore a cult to the sun. Many witches and shamans have their mystical rituals on those dates.

Other festivities, although not religious, turn the motives for which they are celebrated into idolatrous motives, without a true spiritual sense for the occasion; and the deplorable part of all this is that such festivals are celebrated within the churches parallel to the celebrations of the world.

Every communal celebration according to the cultural custom of the region, if there is food involved, establishes a link with the Nicolaitans. Patronal feasts, celebrations for the founding of the town, celebrations for the fallen martyrs, even celebrations for births and deaths of founders of the town, all of them, are a link with the Nicolaitans, and it is an abhorrent act to the Lord.

Men and women of faith, those of us who walk in the Light of the Word and of Grace in Christ Jesus, cannot live according to the agenda of this world; the celebrations that the world has established, although they may seem good and noble, and many of them highlight a motive of self-denial, their foundation is to exalt Greek philosophical humanism.

Is this subject relevant to us? Yes, definitely. Are there in our time those who retain the doctrine of Balaam, and those who retain the doctrine of the Nicolaitans? Yes, there are, and what is even more serious is that even knowing it, they persist in it, and for fear of the people, and what they will say, they do not want to introduce changes neither in their persons nor in their congregations.


Scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Version, 1909 (AKJV).


pastor Pedro Montoya


[1]     http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=ni/kh1

[2]     (Xen. Cyr. 8. 4, I, Plut. Phoc. 20)

[3]     Numeros 25