🔼The name Nicolaitans: Summary
- Those Belonging To The Victor Over The People
- From (1) the noun νικα (nike), victory, and (2) the noun λαος (laos), [common] people.
🔼The name Nicolaitans in the Bible
The name Nicolaitans appears twice in the Bible, twice in Revelation 2. Through John the Revelator, Jesus praises the congregation in Ephesus for hating the "deeds" of the Nicolaitans, which he also hates (Revelation 2:6). The congregation in Pergamum, on the other hand, he rebukes for (a) cherishing the teachings of Balaam, namely to eat food that was sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality, and (b) thus holding the teachings of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15).
The names Balaam and Nicolas appear to have kindred meanings; they seem to reflect a kind of detrimental government, but it's not clear whether the sect of the Nicolaitans was actually started by a man named Nicolas (let alone by the deacon Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6:5 as some of the early church fathers demanded). It's also not clear what precisely the Nicolaitans believed, and to which extent their doctrine was similar to the preachings of the pagan prophet Balaam (Numbers 22:5, 2 Peter 2:15).
But Jesus urges "he who has an ear" to understand what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:17), and very few commentators are brave enough to admit that they have no idea what all this means. Here at Abarim Publications we like to believe that whatever vileness the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans preached, it's probably discussed and condemned elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Spirit related his message to the churches in Asia Minor by means of a label that to us has no longer any meaning, but he relates the same message to us by means of the now widely available printed Bible.
🔼Etymology of the name Nicolaitans
The name Nicolaitans consists of two elements. The first part derives from the well-known noun νικη (nike), which means victory:
The noun νικη (nike) means victory. It comes with the verb νικαω (nikao), to be victorious.
The second part of the name Nicolaitans relates to the noun λαος (laos), which means (common) people:
The noun λαος (laos) means people and is one of a few words to do so. What precisely distinguishes this word from the others is hard to say — it mostly implies the common masses at large, but so do the others — but it bears a remarkable resemblance to the noun λεον (leon), lion, which helps to explain the many proverbial lions romping around ancient texts. That word in turn looks like it has to do with the adverb λεως (leos), wholly or entirely, which is turn relates to the adverb λιαν (lian), very, very much or greatly.
Both Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) and NOBSE Study Bible Name List translate the name Nicolas with Victor Over The People, so the name Nicolaitans would mean something like Those Belonging To The Victor Over The People.
Note that this name appears to reflect an (over-)appreciation of human government or a kind of secular humanism, and therefore an assault on the kingship of Christ. The kingship of Christ was claimed through his resurrection, and denying that would place the Nicolaitans in the same philosophical court as the Sadducees (Acts 4:1-2). It's not wholly clear where the name Sadducee comes from but it is as related to the common Hebrew name Zadok as the name Nicolaitans is to Nicolas. Zadok was a famous priest in the time of king David, who anointed Solomon as rightful king over Israel (as opposed to the insurgent Adonijah son of Haggith; 1 Kings 1:39).
The Sadducees were the king-makers, and as Spiros Zodhiates writes about the Sadducees in his The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary: One of the four principle tenets of the Sadducees was "that man had absolute moral freedom, for upon this freedom depended the moral quality of his actions. This tenet was, however, so excessive as to almost entirely excluded the divine government of the world".
Our article on the name Armageddon closes with the conclusion that "Armageddon is not a location in some far away country. Armageddon is everywhere where people deny the Kingdom of God, and the royalty of Jesus Christ," which would make the error of the Nicolaitans grave indeed, and it would also explain why Jesus took such a vehement personal dislike to the Nicolaitans.
King Solomon initially showed lenience to Adonijah son of Haggith but when the latter asked for David's young nurse Abishag of Shunem, Solomon had him executed. Perhaps the Nicolaitan cult, with its many branches in modern society, can count on the same level of mercy.