Study No. 155
When our Lord Jesus Christ walked among men, He taught His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, whom He denounced as hypocrites. With them He classed the chief priests and officials of the temple, together with the recognized teachers, (scribes, or "professors" — Ferrar Fenton Translation) in the Synagogues. He declared they had so corrupted the truth of God, which they were supposed to preach, with the doctrines and ordinances of men, that the truth, as originally given, was no longer with them. That which these blind leaders of the blind were giving forth as truth of God was making their converts twofold more the children of hell than they were before accepting the [schi]ism by these corrupt teachers.
Therefore, as a warning to those who were joining themselves to Him, the Lord said that these non-spiritual men made long prayers for a "pretense," a public "show" — which, while having a form of humility, was for the purpose only of being seen of men. What these men really loved were the highest seats in the Synagogues; the uppermost rooms at the public feasts; the greetings they received in the market places from truly humble and sincere men, whom they hoped would esteem them as superiors, and who addressed them as Rabbi, Rabbi, — my master, my master. But our Lord commanded:
"Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren . . . . Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant," (Matthew 23:8-11).
This was a double command for a double purpose: 1) Do not allow men who are your brethren in Christ, and who compose the assembly of God, to call you Master, for One alone is your Master. 2) Do not allow yourself to become possessed with such a carnal spirit that you want men who belong to the body of Christ to call you "Master."
Also, added to the carnal desire to be "uppermost" in the eyes of the Lord’s people, these leaders were charged with extortion and accused of devouring the homes of widows, and of excess. Jesus accused them of being hypocrites who aspired to be regarded as dignitaries of the congregations of the Most High God. Such conditions as described exist only in the assemblies across whose ethical portals, before the God of Holiness, has been written the name, "Ichabod" — the glory of the Lord has departed.
The word "excess," as used above, means the carnal abuse of lawful things; things lawful and right carried to extremes. For it is true that there is a legal and God-approved honor given to certain selected ones:
"We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves," (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
"Let the elders that rule well [guide; lead; preside well] be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine," (I Timothy 5:17).
Why guide and lead, instead of rule? Because those who are over us in the Lord are shepherds who must lead and guide, but not dominate. Rule is arbitrary government, and the Church may be "subject to Christ" only. "One is your Master, even Christ." The following Divine instruction is from one of the inspired Spirit-filled elders:
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [not rulership] thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock," (I Peter 5:1-3).
The "blind guides" would say, but not do. The Divinely-anointed elder will both say and do, and thus be an example to the flock, whom the people will love and esteem very highly for his work’s sake, and who in his heart will never desire to be lord over the heritage of his Master.
It is this aspiration on the part of men to become lords over God’s heritage that God hates. "The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes" is just what the word Nicolaitanes itself declares.
Proof: 1) In the book of the revelation of Jesus Christ, it is both "the deeds" and "the doctrine" of those in the two "churches" specified (Revelation 2:6, 15). The Lord demands repentance on the part of those who hold and practice these things and He threatens drastic punishment if they do not obey Him:
"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth," (Revelation 2:16).
2) The name, Nicolaitanes, is a compound word which is composed of three Greek words, and which, because of being a proper noun, is transferred instead of being translated into English. As thus transferred, it is subject to the laws of Greek construction in regard to ellipsis, contraction and phonetics.
3) The Greek words used in its construction are first: "Nikos," of which we use the English equivalents instead of the Greek letters, as we shall also of the other two. Nikos is defined as "a conquest; victory; triumph; the conquered; and by implication, dominancy over the defeated." Another transferred name in which this term is used is "Nicopolis," i.e., Niko — conquest; polis — city. Hence, the city of conquest, or city of victory. Also Andro — "nikos;" a man of conquest, of victory.
The second term used in the name under consideration is "laos," — people, another use of which is Nicolas, which is transferred and is composed of Nikos-laos and means one who is "victorious over the people," the letter s being, in both words, the nominative case ending, which is retained only at the end of the word to denote the case, while a short and o short are contracted into a long.
Also, a still further transferred use of "laos" is found in the name Lao(s)diceans, compounded with dike or dice as the Greek k is the equivalent English c. Thus, in the name Laodiceans, we have laos — "people" and dice judgement, or vengeance, i.e., the people of my judgment, or of my vengeance.
Also the Greek word la(ic)os means "laymen," of which la-os is the root and stem, which selfsame word, with the o short contracted to i, to which root and stem the plural definite article ton is joined to form laiton — is a Greek phrase meaning "the laity."
The third and last word entering into the construction of the proper name Nicolaitanes is ton, in which omega, the long o, is contracted into long a, thus making the word "tan," which is the genitive case plural in all the genders of the definite article the. Therefore, we have, without the legal Greek construction, the English hyphenated word Nickos-laos-ton, but which, with its lawful elisions and contractions, becomes the English name: Nicolaitanes, the full meaning of which, in its native tongue and in its ecclesiastical setting, is that the bishops and prelates of the Church have gained a triumphal victory or conquest over the laiton — the laity — until they have been compelled to submit to the arbitrary dominion of men who have become that thing which God hates: "Lords over God’s heritage."
The evidence of this is found in all our common school dictionaries, among which we find the following definition of the term "hierarchy: the power of dominion, government by ecclesiastical rulers," to which the following is introduced in evidence:
"If anyone shall say that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy established by the divine ordination, consisting of bishops, presbyters and ministers, let him be anathema. Council of Trent (trans) XXIII 6." (Century Dictionary.)
In other words, let anyone who will have the temerity to say there is not a hierarchy, not a collection of human beings, who have been given the power, by other men of dominion, as ecclesiastical rulers over churchmen, who are declaredly God’s heritage, let that man be accursed; i.e., let death and hell and the devil get him. Surely, the thing in which that ecclesiastical company is glorying is their shame!
Furthermore, Webster defines the word "episcopal" as "the power of government, belonging to, or invested in, bishops or prelates. Government of the church by bishops." Also "In episcopacy, the order of bishops is superior to the other clergy, and has exclusive power to confer orders." In this definition it is affirmed that a certain portion of presbyters (elders) were even "in apostolic times superior in authority to ordinary presbyters," and also mentions the fact that episcopacy recognizes "episcopal rank" which is created by the institution thus governed; all of which affirms that any church in which episcopal government obtains is practicing the very carnal and fleshly iniquity of creating "Superiors" in what should be a holy brotherhood. The use of this appellation makes "inferiors" out of "brethren" who are in the selfsame clergy.
The approbation of "ordinary elders" demands a "set" of elders who are super-ordinary, thus creating "rank" (caste) in the otherwise Divine brotherhood, all of which destroys holy fellowship, creates division and strife, and fosters envy. No marvel that our Lord should hate a thing like that, condemn it, and demand that those who are guilty shall repent.
But will they? Yes, some will when the tribulation is on. Others, however, will stick to their ecclesiastical crowd, vainly imagining that their boasted "superiority" will carry them through that time of the greatest trouble the world has ever known, or will know. They must go down with the rest of the hosts of anti-Christ.
And yet, one of the most unfortunate features of all this is that there are those in the Christian Church who do not hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, but who practice "their deeds" of dominating the laity by lording it over the Church of Jesus Christ, which should be subject only to one Divine Master. It is often true that these have assumed this lordship because they are esteemed very highly in love for their work’s sake, but have become vainly puffed up in their fleshly mind. Beloved, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees."