Revelation: Solving the mystery of the Nicolaitans

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Bible, Prophecy

The Revelation of John contains many mysteries, like: Who were the Nicolaitans?

The book of Revelation contains a lot of things that are mysterious. Some are mysterious because of the symbolism John uses, but others are mysterious because what he is referring to is simply unfamiliar to us.

For example, he refers to a mysterious group of heretics known as the “Nicolaitans.”

Who were they?

Fortunately, this is a mystery it’s possible to shed some light on . . .


What Revelation Says

The book of Revelation first refers to the Nicolaitans in the message to the church of Ephesus, where we read:

Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate [2:6].

That doesn’t give us a lot to work with. There is apparently a group of people known as the Nicolaitans who do things (works) that are rightly hated by the Ephesians.

Revelation’s second reference to them is more informative, however. In the message to the church of Pergamum we read:

But I have a few things against you: You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans [2:14-15].

Here the teachings of the Nicolaitans are linked to the teaching of Balaam. (The word here translated “so” is houtos, which carries the idea of explanation: “thus.”)

There may even be a play on words here: As we will see, the Fathers link the Nicholaitans to a man named Nicholaus, which can be understood in Greek to mean “conqueror of the people,” and “Balaam” can be understood in Hebrew as meaning “he conquers/destroys the people” (though it can be understood other ways also).


The Teaching of Balaam

We meet the figure of Balaam in Numbers 22-24, where we learn that he is a seer who was hired by the king Balak to put a curse on the people of Israel as they were threatening to move into the Holy Land.

Balaam, however, was unable to do so. (God wouldn’t let him!)

If you read only Numbers 22-24, Balaam can come off as a good guy. It seems, though, that he went bad.

Later in Numbers, Moses is criticizing the actions of the Israeliets with regard to the women of Midian, and he says:

Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Pe’or, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD [Num. 31:16].

What precisely the Midianite women did that caused the sons of Israel to betray the Lord is not spelled out here.

It is, however, discussed in some extra-biblical writings.


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