This post begins to set out the main points of Thomas Witulski’s discussion of the situation facing the Christians in Pergamon as described in Revelation 2:12-17. This account, following his discussion of the two beasts in Revelation 13, is part of the larger argument to place Revelation in the time of Hadrian. The numbers in brackets are the source page numbers in Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian.
Revelation 2:12 To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Noting what the passage says:
The Pergamene Christians live (at the time of the writing of Revelation) where Satan’s seat is located. (238) (The identification of Satan’s throne will be the subject of the next post in this series.)
At some time before this was written, the Pergamene Christians were shaken but remained steadfast when Antipas had been killed for his faith.
Since the apocalyptist describes the death of one μάρτυς [martyr/witness] Antipas as the climax of the hostilities acting from without on the Christians living in Pergamum, it can be assumed that his death was the only case of a Christian killed for the sake of his faith in that city at the time of the writing of Revelation. This means, however, that up to this time there can be no question of a comprehensive or general persecution of the Pergamenian Christians. (239, translation)
No details are given to enable us to know whether the death of Antipas was the result of a lynching or a formal trial. Both are conceivable. (239)
But there’s a problem. Among these Christians are false teachers whose teachings match those of Balaam whom we know from Numbers 25. Since the comparative adverbs translated above as “likewise” and “also” identify the teaching of the Nicolaitans, plural, as being the same false doctrine that is identified with that of Balaam, we can conclude that some members here called “Nicolaitans” are teaching the same false doctrine of the Old Testament’s Balaam. (240f)
So what was the teaching of Balaam?
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. – Numbers 25:1-3
They [the Midianite women] were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident. – Numbers 31:16
The false teaching consisted of seducing the people to commit apostasy. The sexual sin was not the point. That was only “the means” to the goal. It was what the sexual sin was designed to lead to — idolatry — that was the issue. (I am reminded of that old joke: Why do Methodists not have sex while standing up? Because it might lead to dancing.)