The stern warning to the church of Ephesus in chapter two of Revelation includes this encouragement that is notoriously difficult to understand.

“Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate”. (Rev 2:6)

To better understand this, we must consult the letter to the congregation in Pergamum as well, since this is the only other place that Nicolaitans are mentioned:

“… you have there some who hold to the teaching of Balaam [a powerful pagan sorcerer], who kept teaching Balak [King of Moab] to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Rev 2:13-15)

It is clear that whoever the Nicolaitans were, they were guilty of these kinds of sins.

Christian Hebraist, John Lightfoot, argued that Nicolaitans was a form of Aramaism. In this case, “Aramaism” is not a Greek word but a “loan” word, originating in Aramaic but spelled Greek.

The Aramaic word ניכולא (nichola) means “Let us eat!“. Thus the Greek word Νικολαΐτης (Nicolaitans) was formed from the Aramaic ניכולא combined with the Greek plural ending ίτης. The basic meaning of Nicolaitans, therefore, would be “let-us-eat-ers”.

The Book of Revelation must never be read in isolation from the Book of Acts and the Pauline letters. In Acts 15 we read the text of a letter authored by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.  This letter of encouragement and instruction was sent to gentile Christ-followers who had been delivered from the bondage of paganism (Acts 15:22-29). The conclusion of the letter reads as follows:

“… for it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality.

Once we realize this etymological connection between “Nicolaitans” and “Let-us-eat-ers,” it is not difficult to see that this aberrant group of Gentile Christ-followers were at odds with the decision of Jerusalem Council and the will of God in Christ. They appear to have set aside the teaching of the apostles given in Acts 15 and were slipping back into their former pagan practices.

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130 COMMENTS

  1. You are invited to post your comments here and Dr. Noel Rabinowitz or myself will try to respond within reasonable time. Let us keep thinking together.

  2. I’m familiar with Dr. Lightfoot’s work, but had not encountered this interpretation for “Nicolaitans” before. I admit, it does seem Biblically consistent. I’ve always understood that “Nicolaitans” comes from the Greek words “Nice” (victor/ruler) and “Laikos” (of the people/congregation). Nicolaitans would then be understood as those who have victory (or rule over) the people/congregation. This ties “nicolaitans” to the emergence of a paid, professional clergy/priesthood in the early church, as opposed to the priesthood of all believers.

  3. There is a teaching that Nicolaitans are followers of Nicholas who was one of seven elected by Apostles to minister in the table but backslided. Is it?

    • I agreet with you Reji Paul. Nicolas was a proselite. It means. He was a gentile and became a jew, then he converted himself as a Christian. Lucas named him in the Last place among diacons just he did with judas among the apostles. The diference was that all the apostles and jew disciples used to meeting in the synagoes with other no Christian jew. Probabily Nicolas made a New group with other gentile. This we calling proselitsm, a usual practice in our churches today. That God hate it.

  4. Thank you for this explanation. It was clear, concise, and well written. There are always some who think the rules don’t apply to them.

  5. I tried reading Rev 2 with Acts. What I see is very different & calls into question the words fallen & repent in Rev 4 & 5. What does “fallen” mean? To be lead to a place of rest. I believe we are to mourn , not repent, and do the works we did at first, Isaiah 22:13. Those who mourn hate things sacrificed to idols and acts of immorality. Those who mourn will receive another comforter because they love God’s commands, John 14:15. The word repent as well as negative language ( (against you, abandoned) throws me off.

      • Dr Eli , Thanks for sharing on this topic , it is not as simple explain as you attempted , sorry no disrespect to your findings . they having been mentioned in the new testament , and in revelation , means that there is some importance attached , especially Yeshua speaking so hard against their teachings and doctrines . someone mentioned ” to rule ” I think going from this base we could get a better understanding . so lets attempt to understand , I haven’t got all of the information in front of me , just nakedly , going

    • Right .. the meat in itself is nothing. The problem is the connection to idol-worship, that is to demons.

  6. Dr Eli , Thanks for sharing on this topic , I was impressed to write as I was thinking on this last night , in conversation with a friend . firstly , Yeshua spoke harshly about their doctrines . they were (false )followers of of Yeshua. They sought to use the gospel for selfish purposes and gain , and rule over their subjects , managed to secure a advantage point and enemies of the teachings of Yeshua , the gospel . they use that power and will do so in the future to control , with iron force.

  7. the other point I wanted to make was , that the nicolatians corrupted the true teachings of the laws of God , telling their followers that they need not obey the ten commandments , that grace was sufficient . the book of revelation is mainly prophetic , and symbolism so they being mentioned in Rev , is saying to use , that their teachings and doctrines will , if not already have its introit, again . People , especially those who are of the Nicolatians mindset , seeks to rule and control not through GOD’s methods, but their own .

  8. This prompted my thoughts to consider any biblical examples of “laity rule” so commonly taught for 1,000 years. The closest I could find was about “false teachers rising up among you”, but this is not specifically about someone ruling but about teaching false doctrine and leading many astray; not about laity taking over the church. The Aramaic/Greek definition fits more closely with warnings in nearly every epistle.

    • People interpret Nicolaitan as “Conquering the Laity” not as “laity Rule” but as abusive leaders. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of such, as do Jude, Peter and Paul. There is always the temptation to Judaize Gentiles, and Paul was so opposed to this. I oppose the Gentilization of Jews!

    • what about it? It exists as do others but it is Lightfoot’s interpretation that fits the Jewish Context within Roman Empire perfectly.

  9. Why thrash around in the dark when there is well known tradition explaining this: That they were associates of the deacon Nicholas elected under Peter (as recorded in Acts) who took excuse from the situation developing around Nicholas who neglected his attractive wife because of his duties and became a subject of scandalising gossip for it and distortion of his responses and teachings about it – and these associates were notoriously turning it into a doctrine of permissiveness saying the grace of God justified things like wife swapping. “They turned the grace of God into a license for immoraility”.

  10. Just wondering… How many opposed to the “ruling over the laity” explanation are church leaders ruling the laity in “their” church?

  11. “Let-us eat-ers ” (i. e. Gluttons) seem to confirm my own view of Nicholaitans as Grecian Jews (Act 6:1-5) who pride themselves as educated/liberated Christians, led by Deacon Nicholas, and who became more pleasure loving rather than spirit minded like Stephen or Philips. Quite insightful bro. Thanks.

  12. I learned via Derek Prince that there is a spiritual war between two kingdoms. Satan against the Kingdom of God. Satan said to Eve : the fruit was nice to see, good to eat, it would make us equal to God. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan, but He withstood the three main attacks. The apostle John warns us in 1 John 2:12 – 14. Any religion, (Nicolaitans?)that puts itself above God’s Word is on the wrong side of this war to the death. Jesus is Victor.

  13. Jo Ann and others of a similar mind. Constantine did not start the Christian Church in 313 AD. The first members of the church were the apostles which as the name means were sent into the world by Christ (Romans 1:1ff; Galatians1: 1-5) to teach the gospel message to all nations. Before they were called they were known as ‘Followers of the way of Jesus of Nazareth’ and if my Bible is correct (which I trust it is!) they were first called Christians when Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26). Shalom.

  14. I forgot to add to my previous comment that my understanding of Messianic Jews is that they are Christians as they too have accepted Christ as their Messiah. This fact alone puts them outside of orthodox Jewish belief and practice. So then, Messianic Jews are members of Christ’s Church.

    • Jonathan…..I’m a year late!! You are correct…..only Jews call themselves Messianic. But here again is a division between Jew and Gentile, when we are all supposed to be one. Paul explained what a true Jew is, so if we obey Christ in everything He taught, we all, Jew and Gentile are the true Jews. We are then also classed as being the true Israel of God.

  15. Its fasinating to learn in context at last. There goes many versions of the same text for many years which at some point put divisions among the body of Christ. So I believe your well reaserched teaching will correct many incompelete and or faulse teachings in perspective and in context. Thank you so much.

  16. As A Believer in the Saviour who shed His blood for my salvation I see the importance of kosher cooking meat. We are forbidden to eat blood. God says the blood belongs to me. Powerful and simple is the Blood of the Lamb which overcomes Satan. So glad the jewish people faithfully kept kosher. Yeshuah came to make the law more healthy…not destroy it. Keeping kosher helps me in my intimate walk with Him. So intimate and personal is His relationship with us. Thank you for your articles. God bless your heart.

  17. Flesh eaters and blood drinkers…they were mingling with the Nephelims? ….the Giants of that time? Yes the early believers was not set-apart like their Messiah….our Messiah. We need to be set-apart from all fleshly and worldly things of our time. We need to come back to our First Love Yeshua and offer ourselves to His as the first fruits of His righteousness and to live through Him.

  18. We have been warned all along to stay away from worshipping and worshippers of Baal. Roman and Greek cultures have adopted and interjected so many diety’s that the Jewish People were to abstain from all along. Yet, for some such as the Nicolations it was not just back sliding but adopting a pagan way of life. Idolatry and eaters of sacrificed food is to ignore Adoni’s Commandments and therefore, embrace self condemnation.

  19. This week’s Parasha sums it up nicely. “Shetuk” Let us be like the Datel tree that grows straight and not like the palm tree that bends and leans in many directions. Such as, Acacia = Shetuk ( to bend). Be Blessed

  20. The biggest problem for the Church, as it pressed into Gentile areas was the misinterpretation of what it meant to receive grace. The Apostle Paul scolds some in the Church at Rome who were saying, “the more sinning, the more grace”. (see Romans 6:1-4). Paul explains that those who are truly in Christ, have died to sin. In Romans 8:9, Paul plainly tells them that those who are without the indwelling Holy Spirit are not even believers at all. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the gospels about the Holy Spirit. (e.g. John 14)

  21. It seems to me, reading Rev 2:14&15 that the Lord was drawing the attention of those in Pergamos (and ours) to two distinct groups – those who held the doctrine of Balaam and those who held the doctrine of Nicolaitans, separately and not jointly. They were two different doctrines and not the same or else the Lord would have grouped them together. Doctrine of Ballam promoted eating food sacrificed to idols and committing fornication. Doctrine of Nicolaitans seems obscure, hence this discussion. Lightfoot’s interpretation which Dr Eli has put forward says that Nicolaitans also promoted eating food sacrificed to idols.

  22. That seems to be at odds with what the Lord was drawing our attention to. He was clearly referring to two different doctrines and not the same. I am not quite sure about the “ruling the laity” interpretation either. So to me it still seems obscure and need further enlightenment from the Lord.

  23. Jo Ann, I so much agree with you when you mention Romans 11. I am so grateful that I am grafted into the olive tree that is Israel. Even though I am just a Dutch old lady. My “juices,” that I live by, have the Life and Wisdom that God has given to the Jewish people and I am grateful to Dr Lizorkin that he shares his widom and knowledge with people like me. It is so important to search: “where are the roots ?, where does this teaching come from? “. Thank you, Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.

  24. I did a study several years ago with Pastor Rick Renner on the 1st three chapters of Revelation, which included an exhaustive of each of the seven churches. Along with what you’ve shared, was also the concern for the Israelites to even go into the marketplace where the ‘pagan meat’ was purchased. The marketplace was filled with the unholy for the Jewish people – idol worship, sexual perversion and kinds of unholy. So to even go there, was like walking into a demonic pit of abomination, causing the downfall of their faith. Great lesson even for today.

  25. Baal worship involved human sacrifice of children. Satanic rituals sometimes include sexual immorality and can even include forms of cannibalism, something that would be evil in every way, definitely calling for God’s justice and the condemnation of any God-fearing person. Look at our culture–we have cannibalism represented in some comedy series and there are suspicions that we do have satan worshipers in our world today who do such things. God have mercy on all of us if we do not condemn such practices. Certainly abortion can be seen as a form of Baal worship .

  26. I have read with great interest all your comments and I wonder why we need,as Christians, several hundred Christian denominations to serve the Great God and His messiah??? I come from a mixed heritage but believe we should worship as the first Christian believers, in dedicated homes of ordinary Christians, to pray,share revelations, and disperse to the world what we share as brothers and sisters,NOT in huge churches with images like idols around walls and works of art as decoration. Wouldn’t God be more willing to share His salvation with “ordinary” people dedicated to His works??

    • Shalom Phil, Alas – I think many believers didn’t get Jesus’ memo about unity! All kidding aside, Jesus prayed in John 17 that his followers would be one but few seem to have taken that message to heart. On the other hand, it would be difficult to worship exactly as believers during the first century.

  27. I am confused about who the remnant (gentiles) in Acts 15:17 is. Amos 9:11 calls them Edom. Were they not descendants of Esau’s. Why would they not have been circumcised?

    • The difference in these two passages, Kat, comes from the version of OT used by the apostles. They apparently used the Septuagint Greek translation containing the very words used in Acts 15:17 in Amos 9:11-12. Free pdf downloads are available on the internet.

    • Concerning the circumcision of all Abraham’s seed in the flesh, it may not have been easy for those that married Gentile wives to maintain the tradition. A good example is Moses that married Jethro’s daughter. Jethro was a Midianite priest. Moses did not circumcise his son, and Yahweh threatened to slay him on his way to Egypt to deliver Israel. He then apparently had the child circumcised by force, and his poor wife, Zipporah, called him a bloody husband! See Exodus 4:24-26. Esau married Gentile wives, so may have failed to maintain the tradition of circumcision.

  28. About Saint Irenaeus’ interpretation, according to which Nicolaitans were followers of Nicholas of Jerusalem; As he wrote this about 100 years after the Book of Revelation was written, I have always understood this as a speculation based on conjecture: IF Nicholas was a common Greco-Roman name, why should there only be ONE Nicholas in the Early Church? Just because we find two Nicholas mentioned, a corresponding name does NOT in any way guarantee a match of identity! Proof?See the 2 apostles Jude & Judas = both were called Yehuda! That’s why one of them had to be nicknamed: Iscariot!

    • What Irenaeus has going for his interpretation is that he was trained by Polycarp who was trained by the author of Revelation, John the beloved. This line of the early church were incredibly faithful to the Torah and the Tanak as a whole. Unlike the Roman church or the Alexandrian.

  29. Second, as I have dealt with numerous textual dilemmas requiring solid hermeneutics, as when debating with bible-based heresies (typically twisting scriptures by inferring a meaning which simply cannot be found there), I have found that only the context (first the immediate, then the closest) can give us a clear, limpid and sure meaning. And this path of interpretation, followed in this article to comment these passages, follows this sound method faithfully. Crystal clear. No inference & no speculation. Brilliant by its simplicity.

  30. Thirdly: As I shared your article with a scholar friend, we were both stunned by the science of philology used here: to bring back to life the fact that an Aramaic expression used all around the Near East (going as far as Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Syria and even Persia), sheds an unexpected but refreshing light on the philological etymology of the word Nicholas. Understanding the etymology of this Aramaic word imported into the Greek vernacular, eliminates the need to talk about a speculative Nicolas, which distracts from the simple meaning laid out in front of us in plain view.

  31. To Lorraine about Halal. I have eaten halal food in the past, when I did only focus on the fact that halal food basically follows the kashrut rules. … But a friend reminded me that since the symbol of Islam is the Moon Crescent, thus pointing to Hubal, the top pagan Moon god, one of the many idols worshipped in the Kaaba before Muhammad eliminated all of those worshipped there, except for Allah… She will NOT eat halal, as she believes that it would be eating meat sacrificed to an idol, as an imam invokes Allah when performing butchery.

  32. I do not feel good about eating halaal food, but I cannot explain why. I know too little about exactly what goes on when for instance a chicken in the shop has the halaal sign on it, as all chickens do in Durban S.Africa where I used to live for many years. I know not to trust feelings. Therefore, Dr. Eli, could you explain more about this subject? Do you eat halaal chickens ?

  33. The Muslim halaal way of slaughtering animals is extremely barbaric and cruel. No farmer in our whole district will do it and so halaal meat must be imported from other districts by caterers.

  34. Thanks for sharing this insight. I agree they were people who wrongly believed it was ok to eat food offered to idols. Please what’s your take on 1 Cor 8 v 4 -7? A pastor once argued with me that it is ok to eat such food based on 1 Cor 8 v 4 -7.

    • Food sacrificed to idols is strictly forbidden in Acts 15 (and before that in Torah). Paul rejoiced in the decision of Acts 15. SO there is no way under heaven that Paul can say… you know what it is ok food sacrificed to idols. Whatever our interpretations are of this great Jewish man, we must always remember where he is coming from.

  35. Shalom. So we can’t be certain who the Nicolations were but we know what they did that was not acceptable to God. Eating anthing they wanted to eat. Eating meat sacrificed to idols, consuming meat with blood in it, being sexualy immoral. It is very simple. Do not do these things. There are so many other good things to eat it should not be too difficult to restrain from the things God asks us to.

  36. Nico means “to rule, to dominate” while laity means “people”, so Jesus was against spirit of leaders dominating over people instead of over creation and this is Pharaoh spirit. Nicolaitan also means fleshly indulgence, it represent those who says my spirit is saved therefore its not affected even if I indulge in the flesh.

    • God is the one who puts rulers in place, and one day, Yeshua will rule the world. I don’t think He is against ruling people, but of course he would be against abusively ruling over people.

  37. I have a book from the 1800’s about a traveller who spent much time where the 7 Greek churches once stood. He said the Nicolations believed that their spirit was already in heaven and they were free to indulge. Business people belonged to a guild and had to attend the guild’s meetings which eventually turned into drinking and orgies. Those who felt it wasn’t right to indulge in such practices were assured by the Nicolations that their spirits were safe in Heaven and they could enjoy their life on earth. A bit like the preservation of the saints.

  38. Very interesting. Particularly seen in light of the fact that much meat sold today are really sacrificed to other deities – and some even choked. This is particularly true of HALAL, which is sacrificed to the Devil, and some of these animals can suffer for half an hour before dying.

  39. Nikolaitans in Greek would refer to victory over the people. Leaving the simple method of leadership set out by the early Jewish apostles elders pastors teachers overseers the leaders tried to include priestly leadership who dictated to the laity. Christ hated that and so do we today. No bishops priests

    • God hates abuse and evil manipulation, sure, but to be certain, He is not against all forms of authority. He is the ultimate authority, of course, and He sets up people in positions of authority, i.e., leaders, officers. If those people abuse that authority, shame on them, and God will judge them for it.

  40. Comparing scripture with scripture is a great way to study today. But is it reasonable to assume believers in the first century had access to other letters that would become canonized as the NT? Would the church at Ephesus have had the writings of Luke?

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