For a group called the Nicolaitans, the term Gnostics seems to be the most applicable, as John the writer of the 7 messages to the 7 churches also wrote extensively against this group in His Gospel and Epistles. Rev 2:6, 15
What is Gnosticism?
Gnosticism is not a homogeneous system of either religion or philosophy, but embraces many widely diversified sects holding opinions drawn from a great variety of sources.
Gnosticism most likely arose from a combination of Hellenizing Christianity, while mixing Judaism, Buddhism, and Near Eastern religions from Persia and India. The philosophies of Plato and Philo also influenced or conjoined with Gnosticism.
Common Hellenistic perceptions included that matter and spirit were alien to one another had found its way into Gnosticism.
Many believe that Simon Magnus was the founder of the Gnostic group in the early church from the references in Acts 8:9-24.
The Gnostics where a group in and around the early church that:
- Believed Jesus Christ was God, but He only seemed or appeared to be a person, but He was not. They separated material and spiritual, and therefore God could not become man. (This is also called Docetism)
They therefore believed in a lesser god who created the earth and gave the law and was involved in sin, and of a greater God of redemption who was spiritual and gave wisdom. They misunderstood the meaning of “the Word” in John 1:1.
- They propagated that “gnosis,” (knowledge or wisdom) had a higher calling than faith.
- They divided Christians into categories with one group being superior; the stress on secret teachings, which only divine persons could comprehend. This secret knowledge was higher than the New Testament revelations. They abused such texts as 1 Cor. 3:1-4. And the second group, a lesser group, who were carnal and needed to ascend to the higher knowledge.
- They were antinomian (the belief that moral law is not valid for a person or group), and therefore held that immoralities were acceptable in the spiritual life. They claimed that the spiritual Christians were not responsible for what they did and could not really sin. Thus, they could act in any way they pleased without fear of discipline.
- Salvation was a cosmic rather than a moral context, when one obtained the wisdom you would ascend. To be saved was to be enabled to return to the one true deity beyond this world. The knowledge through which salvation came could be enhanced by participation in rituals or through instruction, but ultimately it was a self-discovery each Gnostic had to experience.
- The ultimate goal of the Gnostics was to return to the absolute deity beyond matter and to be in some sense absorbed into the deity. This also means no fleshly resurrection
There was another form of Gnosticism propagated by Cerinthus of Ephesus in John’s Day. Gnosticism of Cerinthus, a chief foe of Johns’ in Ephesus, believed that Jesus was merely a man and that the divine spirit of God (the Christ) descended on Him at Baptism and left Him at the cross. This teaching denies the full deity of Christ in Hypostatic Union and says that His death on the cross was that of a mere man and not a sacrifice offered up by the Son of God.
John’s Gospel and epistles were intended to show the error of Gnosticism.
The Gospel of John – Emphasizes Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and was written especially for Christians.
The epistles of John emphasize the incarnation of Christ and the high ethical standard of the earthly life of Christ that we are to emulate.
In the first epistle of John, he writes to refute their erroneous teachings. 1 John 1:1-4, 2:4-6, 15-19, 22, 26
In 1 John 2:18, Antichrists = Gnostics
So, we see that in the 7 church messages that Ephesus, as well as Thyatira, apparently had resisted the false prophecy the Gnostics preached, Rev. 2:20-25. Thyatira having, as some speculate, used the name Jezebel to identify the false sect.
Gnosticism could involve licentiousness or asceticism as its two extremes.
The general voice of antiquity accuses the Nicolaitans of:
- Holding the lawfulness of eating things offered to idols, and
- Mixing in and encouraging idolatrous worship;
- Entering into sexual immorality abusing the grace of God, and
- Denying God to be the Creator of the world and attributing its existence to other powers as a doctrine of the Gnostics.
Other scriptures written to refute Gnosticism include:
2 Peter 2; 1 Cor all, (8:1); Col 2:8-28; Jude 1:4, 7, 10, 19