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What is the Nicolaitan spirit or doctrine? Who are they?

(Revelation 2:6 & 15)


Nicolaitans: One of the heretical sects that plagued the churches at Ephesus and at Pergamum, and perhaps elsewhere. Irenaeus identifies the Nicolaitans as a Gnostic sect: “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith (the deity of Christ), and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that “knowledge” falsely so called, that he might confound them, and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by His Word” (see Irenaeus Against Heresies iii 11.  1; ANF vol. 1, p. 426) There is also historical evidence of a Gnostic sect called Nitolaitans a century or so later.

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans appears to have been a form of antinomianism. (Antinomianism: A belief that is based upon a recognition of the mercy of God as the ground of salvation, but it makes the fatal mistake that man can freely partake in sin because the Law of God is no longer binding. It held the truth on the gratuitous reckoning of righteousness; but supposed that a mere intellectual “belief” in this truth had a saving power. The Apostle James refuted this error in James 2:19 with the admonition, "The devils also believe, and tremble"; reminding us that true faith is an active principle which works by love and it goes beyond a profession of belief. "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:20) The Bible teaches us that salvation is a free gift, based upon God's grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) However, the very next verse tells us that "we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)  True faith produce action, as well as a desire for holiness and obedience. (1 John 3:18, Titus 2:11-15, 1 Peter 1:15-16, Revelation 14:12)

Nicolaitans of the 2nd century seem to have continued and extended the views of the 1st century adherents, holding to the freedom of the flesh and sin, and teaching that the deeds of the flesh had no effect upon the health of the soul and consequently no relation to salvation. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that Christians are supposed to "die" to sin and the deeds of our "flesh": "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1-2)  "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." (Romans 6:11-13)

Today, the doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made God's law of no effect: that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned in the book of Revelation.  "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

--Thanks to George Blumenschein for answering to this question!


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