The Forum

The Forum

This department is provided for the free and courteous discussion of biblical and spiritual problems which may be considered edifying to the people of God. Letters concerning such matters are requested.

Dear Brother:

Could you give me some information on the Nicolaitanes? What are their deeds and doctrines as mentioned in the letters to the seven churches? Since it is so hateful in the sight of the Lord, I feel we should guard against it. Have we any of these people today? Is it the doctrine connected with clerisy?

A brother in Christ.

Answer: Since history is unable to trace any sect of the Nicolaitanes, the term must be interpreted by the meaning of the name itself. To quote Mr. F. W. Grant, “The word is made up from two Greek words that mean “Conquering the people.” The last part of the word (Laos) is used in the Greek for “people,” the word from which the commonly used term “laity” is derived. The Nicolaitanes were just those subjecting, putting down, the laity, the mass of Christian people in order unduly to lord over them.

In the church at Ephesus their deeds were hated. In the church at Pergamos deeds crystallized into doctrine or fixed principle. Deeds refer to the dominating attitude on the part of a certain class of men. This attitude became fixed when they installed themselves as a religious hierarchy and subjected the people to a false authority, which in turn was contrary to the authority of the Risen Head of the Church. This was the beginning of what eventually became priestcraft or clerisy in the professing Church.

Alongside the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes in the church at Pergamos was “the doctrine of Balaam.” Both words have a close connection. To quote Mr. Grant again, “Balaam is the Hebrew word as the other is the Greek and means “destroyer of the people.” The doctrine of Balaam destroys by an unholy mixture of the genuine and false, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes conquers by an unholy authority.

It has been suggested too that the verb to devour in 2 Corinthians 11:20 is very closely linked with the word “Nicolaitanes.” 2 Corinthians 11:20 describes the rise of the clerisy in the church of Corinth: “For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.” It is possible that the church in 3 John is the church in Corinth. If so, then the deeds mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:20 become a doctrine in the person of ungodly Diotrephes.

It may be well to point out here that there are three marks of religious apostasy in the Epistle of Jude, which Epistle forms a fitting preface to the Book of the Revelation: “the way of Cain,” the rejection of the Work of Christ; “the error of Balaam,” the corruption of the Word of God; “the gainsaying of Core,” the repudiation of the High-Priestly authority of Christ. Our only safety is in keeping near the Cross, in maintaining a holy reverence for the Word of God, and in manifesting a humble subjection to Him whose authority alone is supreme in His own House, the Lord Jesus.

Few assemblies may be free from the spirit of Diotrephes. Both the assemblies and the servants of Christ should pray earnestly to be kept from the spirit that has divided Christendom into clergy and laity.

R. McC.