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Jewish Doctrinal Defense
The Nicolaitan Heresy Part 1 of 7

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © September 13, 1989 (last updated May 27, 2019

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Part Five
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Part Seven
The Nicolaitan Heresy

The rabbis have examined Christianity in great depth and have consistently ruled that its foundational doctrines and claims concerning Yeshua/Jesus are in violation of Torah, the Sinai Covenant, and interests of the Jewish people. Christians believe the founder of their religion was a Jewish man known as Yeshua ben Miriam, popularized in English as Jesus, son of Mary. They claim that he was the Mashiach or "Christ" foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. Based on this erroneous claim the Church has sought to convert or genocide our people for the past 1700 years or so based on their "Replacement theology." Since Yeshua met none of the main messianic requirements presented in the Tanach, Jews have always rejected their claims. Unfortunately due to a lack of biblical knowledge some Jews are sometimes deceived by missionaries. In this study we examine the origins of Christendom in some depth for the benefit of Jews and Noahides. This topic is important as it reveals the fallacy of their claims and the Roman, not Jewish, origins of their belief system.

"I have a few things against you, because you have some there who follow Balaam’s teaching. Balaam had taught Balak to trip up the Israelites so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you have some who follow the Nicolaitan Heresy." -- Revelation 3:14,15.
Gamaliel's Test

In the New Testament Book of the Acts of the Apostles there is an event that many Christians cite to support their beliefs about Jesus. But does it really? Let's take a closer look.
First, here's the account:

Acts 5:33 ... On hearing [that the Way sect continued trying to convert the people], the members of the Sanhedrin were infuriated and wanted to put the emissaries to death.
34 But one of the members of the Sanhedrin rose to his feet, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Torah highly respected by all the people. He ordered the men put outside for a little while
35 and then addressed the court: "Men of Israel, take care what you do to these people.
36 Some time ago, there was a rebellion under Todah, who claimed to be somebody special; and a number of men, maybe four hundred, rallied behind him. But upon his being put to death, his whole following was broken up and came to nothing.
37 After this, Y'hudah HaG'lili led another uprising, back at the time of the enrollment for the Roman tax; and he got some people to defect to him. But he was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
38 So in the present case, my advice to you is not to interfere with these people, but to leave them alone. For if this idea or this movement has a human origin, it will collapse.
39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them; you might even find yourselves fighting God!" They heeded his advice.
We know from history that the religion of Christianity was created by the Romans through the counsels of Emperor Constantine the so-called Great. Among these was the Counsel of Nicaea of 325 CE. These meetings are matters of historic record. Whether these meetings created a new religion or merely canonized an older one may be debated. That the initially Jewish sect stopped being Jewish at least by this point is not debatable.

Some people today are denying the historicity of Yeshua ben Miriam/Jesus. In my opinion the basic story of the historic Yeshua was not created by the Flavians nor Roman counsels despite the claims of a few modern Christian detractors. Yeshua ben Miriam was clearly an historic person according to everything we know of history. His existence is at least as historically verifiable as most others from the ancient world that are accepted today without question. Indeed more so in many cases, due to the vast literature concerning him that suddenly appeared in the first two centuries of our common era, and the willingness of so many of his followers to die as martyrs rather than recant their faith. Denying his physical existence is baseless and serves no meaningful purpose. Understanding the truth of who he was, what he taught, and how the sect that arose in his name begun however can help those who are interested in knowing the truth. It can also rescue Jewish souls and generations from this heresy.

The New Testament has Jesus' execution happening circa 33 CE. 70 CE was an utterly devastating period for the Jewish people, including the followers of the Way sect founded by the followers of Yeshua ben Miriam in his name. The sect was still primarily Jewish at that time. After 70 CE, when the Temple was destroyed and the surviving Jews, including the members of the Way sect, were forced to flee Judea and Samaria, the small sect fragmented into several rival factions as confirmed by the New Testament. Among those we know about were the Ebonites, the Gnostics, the 'Hebrew Way followers', the 'Hellenized followers', and the Nicotianas. As the sect spread outward it became increasing diverse doctrinally.

John the Revelator warned the reformed sect members against two of the largest of these groups in the New Testament. The Gnostic doctrine is condemned at I John 4:2. This Way faction believed that their teacher had been so righteous that he had not actually come in human flesh like a mortal man. They claimed Yeshua had been an apparition or ghost, not a man of flesh and blood. This was similar to what some of the Essenes believed about their "Teacher of Righteousness" who had lived shortly before the the time of Yeshua. The teachings of the Gnostics arose largely from the asceticism of the East, especially India and Egypt.

Another major Way sect was the Nicolaitan Heresy. John, a Jew, warned about this heresy at Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. He describes its adherents as people "who say they are Jews but are not." This sect sought to ingratiate itself with the Roman authorities by fully assimilating into Roman Pagan sensibilities. The Nicotianas. incorporated the main Roman religious beliefs into their own, a practice that was common among the Roman religions. This group had gone so far in this direction that John says they were Jews in name only. They claimed to be Jews but were not. By embracing ever more Roman beliefs and practices they had abandoned the Jewish Covenant and people.

As more and more Gentiles began entering the Way sect its leaders 'converted them into Judaism' according to their sectarian rules. The traditional Rabbis refused to accept these converts however due to their belief in Yeshua, as well as their other anti-Torah beliefs and practices. Because of this situation James, the leader of the sect and brother of Yeshua, implemented a short lived teaching whereby the Gentile followers would be viewed as Noahidim (see Acts 15 for the implementation of the Noahide Laws to them, and Paul's acceptance of this system in Romans 11). This attempt at re-unification produced no fruit however because among the Seven Noahide Laws is the law prohibiting Avodah Zarah or "foreign worship." It is doubtful that the sect had developed the heresy of Yeshua's deification at this early point, however they were clearly viewing him as a 'mediator between G-d and man' (1 Timothy 2:5), which is a clear violation of Torah Law (Deuteronomy 32:39) and violation of avodah zarah. As time passed the rift between the traditional Jews and the sect grew progressively wider and the idea faded away.

John's hatred of the Assimilationist Nicolaitan Heresies led him to refer to it as the Synagogue of Satan:

"Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" -- Revelation 3:9.
These divisions within the Way sect began early, as Acts chapter six demonstrates:

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration - Acts 6:1.

The "Greek" members, i.e. the hellenized Jewish and Gentile followers, quickly began to outnumber the Jewish followers. The non-Jews began bringing their own views and opinions into the sect rather than embracing Torah Judaism. Even the reformed version of the original Way sect was being lost. Without Rabbinic oversight the sect was moving farther and farther away from Torah Judaism and was becoming something else entirely, something forbidden to the Jews as avodah zarah.

Following the events of 70 CE, as the Jewish Way members found themselves living among unconverted Gentiles, new doctrines unknown to their fathers began incorporating local Gentile beliefs, and traditions (Deuteronomy 13). The Jews of the Way sect began losing whatever Torah teachings they had learned and the newcomers were to reverting back into their previous beliefs and practices, while still claiming to be Jews (Revelation 3:9). What had arguably begun as a Jewish reform movement was quickly becoming something entirely cut off from Torah.

We can learn much from the recorded wisdom of Rabbi Gamaliel. In Acts chapter five (quoted above) he reminded his hearers that many people had come before then claiming to be the Messiah, and that thus far they had all failed for one reason or another. If the claims of Peter and his peers were false, as he believed, they too would surely fail. Why trouble them or yourselves fighting with them? But if their reforms were true, then G-d would bless the new sect and nothing could prevent it. Therefore, Rabbi Gamaliel established a test: Leave them alone and see what happens. Would G-d bless them or would they too fade away like all the other would-be Messiahs?

In Acts chapter 23 another hearing is held, this time regarding regarding Sha'ul (Paul). Paul was called to testify before the Sanhedrin about his anti-Torah Missionary activities. This hearing brought up a key division of opinion between the P'rushim (Pharisees) and Tz'dukim (Sadducees). The specific issue had to do with the resurrection of the dead, a point of doctrinal disagreement between the two main Jewish sects of the day. The Way sect had yet to take a formal position in this debate as far I have discerned. With Paul, the sect now adopted the views of the Pharisees on this matter. They embraced or ratified the teaching that there will be a resurrection of the dead in the Olam Haba (the Messianic World to Come). Whether this decision included the belief of gilgul neshamot (repeated rebirth) is not certain from the text. This episode is quite revealing about the views of the original sect:

23 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” 4 And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” 6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” 10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

Consider: To strike hum in the mouth: The Jewish authorities considered Paul and the rest of the Way sect to be heretics, hence his claim was offensive to them, even to the High Priest himself. These authorities had heard Yeshua, James, Paul and the others first hand and they rejected them as heretics. As Rabbinic Jews we accept their well informed judgement in this matter. From their very beginning the sect of Yeshua was rejected. The Way followers agreed with the Pharisees (Rabbis) on the resurrection of the dead.

Whitewashed wall: From this we learn a couple of important points. Paul alluded to the Essene accusation that the Pharisees build weak walls, i.e. that they were not strict enough in their Halachic rulings. Paul similarly accuses them of being hypocrites or as he charges, "whitewashed walls." Note that he insults one rabbi, implying them all, but then backs off when he realizes he is speaking to the high priest. All rabbis are the leaders of the Jewish people, not just the Cohain Gadol. Paul's disrespect for Rabbinic authority is made clear here.

Another point made here: Paul and his followers did not believe in the Christian/Pagan Heaven and Hell duality of the Greeks and Romans. At this point they considered themselves to be members of the Pharisee party, which is to say, Rabbinic Jews. They agreed with the rabbis on issues of the after life. Later we will see how Paganism entered the Way sect and infused its anti-Torah teachings. At this point, the main difference between the members of the Way sect and Rabbinic Judaism was their embrace of the failed Messiah Yeshua. As is said: "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." At this point the sect was still doctrinally Jewish. They had only gone astray with the Messianic candidate.

More importantly for our purposes here is the ruling: "We don't find anything wrong with this man..." Had Sha'ul and the others believed what Christians do today, that Jesus was the divine incarnation and savior of the world, that he had replaced the Torah with a New Covenant and so on, both the Pharisees and the Sadducees would have condemned him on the spot or heresy. Had Paul and his associates taught the deity of Yeshua, that he was the only way to G-d, that he had been sacrificed for the sins of the world etc. this Rabbinic ruling in his favor would never have been made. Such blasphemy, had it been present, would have led to Sha'ul and the sect's complete condemnation by the court. Instead, the Rabbis ruled: "We don't find anything wrong with this man..." The original members of the Way sect believed as Rabbinic Jews, other that their reformed views concerning Jesus. They were not "Christians" at this point. They were however regarded as heretics for their beliefs concerning Yeshua and the claims that he was Mashiach.

The sages of the court did not agree with Sha'ul about Yeshua being the Messiah, hence the thought to strike him for claiming to be a good observant Jew. No one who embraces a false Messiah nor a mediator between HaShem and humanity is a "good Jew." There have been many men claiming to be the Messiah throughout our long history. Even today there are some Jews who believe the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of righteous memory (1902-1994) will return as the Messiah. Most Jews don't accept this, including most in Chabad, but their belief in him does not exclude them from being recognized as observant Jews. The Rabbinic opinion here seemed to view Paul's attitude towards Yeshua as Mashiach in a similar way. He is wrong, but otherwise his doctrine seemed to be fit within the orthodox diversity of views. It is clear that the Way sect hoped Yeshua would be chosen for that position, but he was not. As Gamaliel had said during the earlier trial of Peter, if their reform Jewish beliefs were true, G-d would make it successful. If their teaching are false, their sect will not survive. Today Chabad is one of the more exuberant Jewish sects. HaShem is clearly blessing their work. As for their Rebbe, time will tell that the vast majority of us are not 'holding our breath' for his return. There was more problems with the Way dogmas however, still the Rabbis ruled, leave them be. We will see what happens.

So What Happened?

Within a very few years of these events the Way sect developed more and more doctrine that opposed the Jewish views of the original Hebrew talmidim such as Peter, James, John, Paul et al. In his attempts to shore up the Hebrew (Rabbinic) nature of the sect, Paul unintentionally laid the foundation upon which the Nicolaitan Heresy would become established as Christendom and eventually replace the sect with Roman dogma. By the time of John's imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos the Nicolaitan and Gnostic heresies were beginning to predominate the Way movement as "those who say they are Jews but are not" took control and unified the various factions.

By 325 CE at the vary latest the Hebrew Way sect had ceased to exist. Just as Rabbi Gamaliel and other rabbinic authorities had expected. Based on Rabbi Gamaliel's test that ".. if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God,” the sect was proven to be false. It failed the test in a little over three hundreds at the outside. For all practical purposes it only just managed to survive the first century. Adding insult to injury, the sect was coopted by the very people who had executed its founder, the Romans.

Arguably Bishop Arius (250 or 256–336 CE) and his followers were the last Way sect holdouts. While they maintained the complete humanity of Yeshua (who by then was called Iēsoús) and rejected the Roman Trinity dogma, it is clear that their beliefs had been largely "Christianized" otherwise. After Arius one find no evidence of the original sect's survival.

In order to unite the Roman Empire under his authority, Emperor Constantine formed a new "universal" religion and based his new Kirk (the Catholic Church) squarely on the foundational teachings of the Nicolaitan Heresy. Through his counsels and royal decrees the Nicolaitan dogmas were edited and refined into what we now know as Christianity. From this Roman religion all branches or Christianity either arose or were so thoroughly modified as be something wholly different than the Way sect of the talmidim. We explore this in more depth in part two of this study.

Continue to Part Two

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