“So you have also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which I hate” (Revelation 2:15). The Nicolaitans were one of the Gnostic sects. The basic idea of gnosticism was that the material world is evil, but through secret knowledge the enlightened ones could escape to a higher sphere. Jehovah, the God of the Jews, was considered evil because He created matter, but Jesus came with the secret knowledge that would lead back to the realm of the good God. Since the physical nature was hopelessly evil, there was no point trying to resist temptation.[1] Thus the followers of this sect rejected the holistic biblical view of man, splitting the "holy" mind and spirit from the corrupt and immoral body as if the one had no effect on the other. Although the church officially rejected Gnosticism during the Ephesus and Smyrna periods, an unexpected version of the Nicolaitan heresy entered the church during the Pergamos period with the development of asceticism and monasticism,[2] which split the body of Christ into corrupted commoners and "holy" priests and monks.

Many of the great “church fathers” such as Origin and Tertullian practiced exceedingly strict, ascetic lifestyles,[3] and this became the ideal for serious Christians who wanted to be "holy". But rather than insisting on holiness for everyone, they began to draw a distinction between the “advice” and the “requirements” of the Gospel, asserting that Jesus taught [4] a very high standard of poverty and celibacy that was optional “advice” for those who were serious about their religion, but which was different from the lower “requirements” that applied to the common people. “While the requirements of Christianity are binding on all Christians, the advice is for those who would live the holier life… voluntary poverty and voluntary celibacy were, therefore, deemed advice impossible of fulfillment by all Christians, indeed, but conferring special merit on those who practiced them.”[5] Naturally the common people who had not chosen the way of the spiritually elite had the tendency to feel that the lower standards of the “requirements” made it unnecessary or even impossible for them to live a holy life.

A number of trends contributed to the dividing of the church into the “holy” elite and the “profane” masses. As the official religion of the empire, the church was attracting large numbers of heathen converts who were Christian in name only. Many more became Christians because their parents had them baptized, never making a decision themselves to follow Christ. Since "everyone" was a Christian now, it was easy for the general selfishness and worldliness of society to be considered normal.[6]

“Serious” Christians reacted to this by adopting the monastic lifestyle of extreme asceticism and withdrawal from the world. This asceticism shared with gnosticism the idea that the material world is evil, and that only the select few can escape to a higher sphere (in the monastery). The unfortunate consequence is that this promotes a double standard of Christian morality. The ordinary Christian understood fthat immorality was evil, but since he was not taking part in the pure monastic life, he could not be expected to overcome his sinful physical nature. The monks themselves did not expect the common people to live a moral life since they had rejected the optional “advice” to be holy. The result was the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” on a church-wide scale: the church was divided into a “pure and holy” elite who withdrew from the "world" in the monasteries, and the masses of ordinary "Christians" who lived worldly and immoral lives.

But even among the priests and monks the doctrine of celibacy, which was codified during this period,[7] resulted in a split "Nicolaitan" life. On the one hand they engaged in nearly constant prayers, liturgies and fastings, but on the other hand they often fell into perverse and immoral behavior as a result of the inhumane and unbiblical doctrine of celibacy.[8] Immorality between monks and nuns, sexual exploitation by priests of those who came to them for confession, homosexuality and child abuse have been a tragic pattern that unfortunately has been a curse in the church not only during the Pergamos era but all through the centuries until the present day. It is no wonder that Jesus condemned "the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6).

Continue to next section: 2:16,17 REPENT, OR ELSE

[1] John Arendzen, "Gnosticism" The Catholic Encylopedia http.// accessed Jun 25 2014.

[2] Monasticism is the way of life typical of monks or nuns, in which they withdraw entirely or in part from society to devote themselves to prayer, solitude, and contemplation and is often characterized by ascetism, which is severe austerity and self-denial.

[3] Origin, for example, “was ascetic in the extreme, and to avoid slander arising out of his relations with his numerous inquirers he emasculated himself, taking Matt.19 as a counsel of perfection” (Walker, The History of the Christian Church, p. 79).

[4] “There are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:12) If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor.” (Matthew 19:21)

[5] Walker p. 104.

[6] Ibid, p. 103.

[7] The first church council to decree celibacy was the council of Elvira, at the beginning of the fourth century, Herbert Thurston “celibacy of the clergy." The Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed June 25, 2014.

[8] Peter and the other apostles had wives (1 Corinthians 9:5). Bishops and elders were to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:5,6). One of the “doctrines of demons” is “forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:1,3).