Die Nikolaïete was ‘n bedryging in die vroeë kerk. In die briewe in Openbaring aan die sewe gemeentes het beide Éfese en Pergamos probleme met hulle ondervind, en albei het verskillend gereageer daarop (Openbaring 2:6, 15). Die vraag is egter wie was hierdie groep en hoe het hulle gelyk.

1. Ontstaan

Hippolitus van Rome skrywe dat hierdie groep as vader gehad het die diaken Nikolas. Irenaeus sê die volgende hieroor:

“The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles.”   (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, i. 26, §3.) 

Volgens Epifanius:

“[Nicolas] had an attractive wife, and had refrained from intercourse as though in imitation of those whom he saw to be devoted to God. He endured this for a while but in the end could not bear to control his incontinence…. But because he was ashamed of his defeat and suspected that he had been found out, he ventured to say, “Unless one copulates every day, he cannot have eternal life.” — Epiphanius, Panarion, 25, 1

Tog is daar ook geskrifte wat ‘n positiewer kant van hierdie diaken teken (Clement van Alexandrië en Theodoret). 

“Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, ‘that the flesh must be abused.’ But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, ii. 20). 

“But when we spoke about the saying of Nicolaus we omitted to say this. Nicolaus, they say, had a lovely wife. When after the Saviour’s ascension he was accused before the apostles of jealousy, he brought his wife into the concourse and allowed anyone who so desired to marry her. For, they say, this action was appropriate to the saying: ‘One must abuse the flesh.’ … I am informed, however, that Nicolaus never had relations with any woman other than the wife he married, and that of his children his daughters remained virgins to their old age, and his son remained uncorrupted. In view of this it was an act of suppression of passion when he brought before the apostles the wife on whose account he was jealous. He taught what it meant to ‘abuse the flesh’ by restraining the distracting passions. For, as the Lord commanded, he did not wish to serve two masters, pleasure and God. It is said that Matthias also taught that one should fight the flesh and abuse it, never allowing it to give way to licentious pleasure, so that the soul might grow by faith and knowledge” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, iii. 4, §§25-26; and apud Euseb. H. E. iii. 29). 

Daar is duidelik nie 100% konsensus is oor wie dan nou eintlik verantwoordelik was vir hulle ontstaan nie.

2. Die karakter

Ignatius skryf oor hulle:

“Flee also the Nicolaitanes, falsely so-called, who are lovers of pleasure and given to calumnious speeches” (ANF, Vol I, p71).

Met ander woorde hulle lewens was gekenmerk deur losbandigheid en hulle toesprake aanvallend, beskuldigend en gelaai met valsheid om ander af te breek. Verder is dit uit sy werke duidelik dat seksuele onreinheid aan die orde van die dag was en “unlawfull unions”, volgense hulle, ‘n goeie ding.

Irenaeus identifiseer hulle as ‘n Gnostiese sekte: 

“John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith (the deity of Christ), and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that “knowledge” falsely so called, that he might confound them, and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by His Word”  (Irenaeus Against Heresies iii 11.1; ANF vol.1, p426).

Hy bevestig ook die seksuele losbandigheid en daarmee saam die eet van vleis wat aan afgode geoffer is.

Die Nikolaïete was verder ‘n vorm van antimonianisme. Dit wil uit die werke van Ireneaus voorkom asof daar by hulle ‘n sterk handhawing was van die dualisme tussen liggaam en gees (of siel) wat sterk bekelmtoon en propageer is deur Plato en sy volgers. Dit maak sin wanneer ons weet dat hulle ‘n gnostiese inslag gehad het, want die gnostiek het ‘n sterk affiniteit vir hierdie valse verdeling tussen die fisiese en metafisiese. Die gnostiek het ‘n mensbeeld voorsien wat die antinominianisme soos ‘n handskoen gepas het.

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