The Nicolaitans - Who Jesus Hates
Who were the Nicolaitans which Jesus hated? And still hates today.
The first mentions of the Nicolaitans are Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus. The second, and last, to the church in Pergamum, which was Satan’s throne. The identity of the Nicolaitans is not clear, but certainly important as it is pinpointed for double disgrace. The Nicolaitans appear nowhere else in scripture or any historical reference. Can we glean something specific that will have meaning today?
Some of the early church fathers, including Irenaeus and Hyppolytus, suggest Deacon Nicholas as the author of this heresy, leading lives of unrestrained indulgence. It is more likely that the Nicolaitans used great restraint, being spiritually deadened by some of the same practices of the Pharisees whom Jesus often rebuked.
Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch (Acts 6:5), a Pagan who converted to Judaism who converted to Christianity. He appears in Jerusalem as one of seven chosen to serve table. There Nicolas had the ears of the Disciples. It appears that he had something to say that new Christians should eat according to the Jewish dietary laws. And, as likely circumcised as an adult, thought this a requirement to solicit God’s favor.
Peter soon had a vision that it was acceptable to eat animals that were formerly unclean (Acts 10). Cornelius was also given a vision to confirm to Peter that the Gentile foods were made clean by God. What did Peter think of his first ham steak?
And what teachings shows up back in Nicolas’ home town, Antioch?
The Nicolaitans were those who tried to re-impose the laws of Moses, specifically including circumcision and dietary restrictions. Their teaching was for all Christians to observe part or all of the Law, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul concludes to Peter, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
There are Christian denominations that have some dietary restrictions at fasts or against alcohol and caffeine products. Notably are the Seventh Day Adventists’ vegetarian approach and the Worldwide Church of God with its dietary restrictions and observance of Jewish holy days. Circumcision is still expected in the Coptic Church and its offshoots in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
One of the early Judaizing sects was the Ebionite Christians. They had also rejected the Nicene Creed and the interpretation of the Trinity. By the time of Muhammad they mostly occupied the Hejaz in western Saudi Arabia, to include Mecca and Medina. Muhammad learned Jewish and Christian beliefs from the Ebionite priest Waraka ibn Nawfal, his distant cousin and uncle to his first wife. Many of the Ebionites would have been early coverts to Islam.
The dietary laws of Islam exceed those of Judaism in details plus a ban on alcohol. Halal or Kosher, it’s the Law.
Although not mentioned in the Quran, circumcision is almost universally practiced in Islam. It is mentioned in the hadith, linking the practice to Father Abraham (Genesis 17:23, Quran 16:123) and as a symbol of purity. In some areas this includes female circumcision. There is some debate whether circumcision is required of new converts.
Jesus pronounced seven woes on the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees (Matthew 23). Can this condemnation be interpreted today as woe to the teachers of Sharia Law and Imams? Is Islam a manifestation of latter-day Nicolaitans?