Nicolas was one of the seven deacons elected by the church. Nicolas has the distinction of being the first Gentile Christian named in the New Testament. He also helped the church overcome one of its first practical hurdles.
At a time when the church was comprised almost entirely of Jewish believers, its growing numbers brought increasing tension between two particular groups: the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews. Hellenistic Jews were those who were influenced by Greek thought and language— they had been born far from Jerusalem in most cases. Hebraic Jews maintained close ties to the Promised Land, its language, and its culture.
Within the church at Jerusalem, the Hellenistic Jews began to feel slighted, complaining that their widows were being excluded from the church’s regular food distributions. The apostles, already stretched to capacity with their teaching responsibilities, appointed seven men (Nicolas being one of them) to make sure all of the church’s widows were cared for. Judging by their Greek names, all seven men were of a Hellenistic background. Such a selection surely would have won the trust of Hellenistic Jews within the church.
Even more significant, Nicolas was a God-fearer—a Gentile convert to Judaism. His presence in the church and his appointment to such an important role was a clear signal that the gospel could not be constrained by nationality or ethnicity. Nicolas was an early reminder of the great commission and Jesus’ insistence that His good news is for “all nations” ( Matthew 28:19). Later, Nicolas’s hometown of Antioch would become the front line in the effort to spread the gospel among the Gentiles.
According to one tradition, Nicolas was responsible for starting the heretical group known as the Nicolaitans, who sought a “happy medium” between Christian faith and pagan practice in order to avoid being ostracized for their commitment to Christ (see Revelation 2:6, 15). However, there is no historical evidence to link the two.