Author Weidenbach, WikiMedia Commons License
We aren’t sure where “Ephesus” comes from. It may have been a foreign word. However, “ephoros” means “overseer”, but this might have been folk etymology. However, there are indications that this might be a correct rendering.
Ephesus was located near the mouth of the Cayster River only three miles from the coast. It became the capitol of Asia Minor, was connected by highways with the interior of Asia and all her chief cities, and became a great commercial center. The emperor had made Ephesus a free city and it was given the title “Supreme Metropolis of Asia.” It also contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Diana, and was a center of mystical cult worship. “The temple was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high, with great folding doors and 127 marble pillars, some of them covered with gold. The worship of Diana was ‘religious immorality’ at its worst.”
~ Keathley, III, J Hampton. (n.d.). “The Message to Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)”.
Such a “supreme metropolis” would probably have a very large slave population. It was also quite steeped in paganism.
1Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7, King James Version)
Leaving their first love and surrounded by paganism, could it be that the society around them had influenced them? Certainly, the Nicolaitans were associated with Balaam and paganism (vv 14 – 15).
Who were the Nicolaitans? Again, people disagree upon that. So, why name them if we cannot be sure who they were? Well, what does “Nicolaitan” mean? Well, Strong’s G3532 for “Nikolaos” says it means “victor of the people”.
Who better to become an “overseer” than someone who has conquered the people?
42But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45, King James Version)
"Well, what does “Nicolaitan” mean? Well, Strong’s G3532 for “Nikolaos” says it means “victor of the people”.
John you left off the most important parts from Strong's — "an adherent of Nicolaus"– "Nicolaus-a heretic"(Nicolas–said to be the same as the deacon in Acts6:5 who eventually went off into heresy and these were his followers. They taught the same doctrines as Balaam, which you noted also shows up in Pergamos and possibly even under "Jezabel" in Thyatira.
NICOLAITANS — (nik-o-la'-i-tanz) Nikolaitai): A sect or party of evil influence in early Christianity, especially in the 7 churches of Asia.(from International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, Electronic Database– Biblesoft)
It is also a possiblity this same heresy was part of "a synagogue of Satan" seen in Smyrna
Anonymous wrote: "John you left off the most important parts from Strong's — 'an adherent of Nicolaus'"
I should have fleshed that out a bit more, but that is the part that many disagree upon.
Hippolytus of Rome is the earliest we know to write of him, and he was born near the end of the 2nd century. According to Wikipedia: "There is no other first-hand evidence [other than the Book of Revelation] to give us certainty about the nature of this sect."
Since it is tied into worship of Balaam, which means "lord", Albert Barnes postulated that "Nicolaitan" was just another way to say "Balaam" (same article).
However, the tie-in to syncretism shouldn't be ignored, even if there was no Nicolas to follow.
On a different subtopic: One reference I had trouble finding until just now is JH Allen's piece on the meaning of the word.