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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Nicolaitanes, a Heretical Sect

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Nicolaitanes. The mention of this name in the Apocalypse (see Murray's Illus. B. D. s.v.) has caused it to appear in almost all lists of heresies; but there is no trustworthy evidence of the continuance of a sect so called after the death of St. John. Irenaeus in writing his great work used a treatise against heresies by Justin Martyr; and that Justin's list began with Simon Magus and made no mention of Nicolaitanes may be conjectured from the order in which Irenaeus discusses the heresies viz. Simon Menander Saturninus Basilides Carpocrates Cerinthus the Ebionites the Nicolaitanes. So late a place is inconsistent with chronological order and the most plausible explanation is that Irenaeus followed the order of an older list and added the Nicolaitanes to it. About them he has nothing to say (I. xxvi. 3) but what he found in the Apocalypse; for the words "qui indiscrete vivunt," which alone have the appearance of an addition seem only an inference from Rev_2:13-14; Rev_2:20-22. In a later book (III. x. 6) Irenaeus incidentally mentions them as a branch of the Gnostics and seems to ascribe to them the whole body of Ophite doctrine. HIPPOLYTUS probably derived his view of them from Irenaeus. In his earlier treatise as we gather from comparing the lists of Epiphanius Philaster and Pseudo-Tertullian he brings them into an earlier though still too late a place in his list his order being Simon Menander Saturninus Basilides Nicolaitanes; and he ascribes to them the tenets of a fully developed Ophite system. There is no sufficient evidence that the Ophites called themselves Nicolaitanes. In the later work of Hippolytus Nicolaus the deacon is made the founder of the Gnostics; but the notice is short and goes little beyond what is told in Irenaeus bk. i. It is needless to notice the statements of later writers.

Stephen Gobar (cf. Phot. Bibl. 232) says that Hippolytus and Epiphanius make Nicolas the deacon of Act_6:5 answerable for the errors of the sect called after him; whereas Ignatius Clement of Alexandria Eusebius and Theodoret condemn the sect but impute none of the blame to Nicolas himself.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Nicolaitanes, a Heretical Sect'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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