Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Jerry Pearce holds his oil-soaked Bible. Despite years of being submerged, the Bible has no visible damage. Photo taken Nov. 19 at the Wink Theatre in Dalton, Georgia.

Faith is loosely defined as belief in something without having proof.

For several years, two unofficial ministry leaders in Dalton, Georgia, have given out some 350,000 vials of oil that was said to have flowed out of a Bible. From the touch of that oil, many people have said they have been cured of illnesses or freed from addictions.

And who's to say they weren't?

However, chemical analysis of the oil paid for by the Times Free Press "strongly suggest that the oil sample is mineral oil" and that it is nearly an exact match for mineral oil sold at Tractor Supply in Dalton.

The weekly services at the city's Wink Theatre where the oil was used and distributed now have been canceled. The unofficial leaders — one of whom was visually identified in December 2019 as consistently buying mineral oil at Tractor Supply — say the Bible has not produced oil since Jan. 10. They stopped distributing vials after Feb. 4.

If the oil resumes flowing, they said, they will begin distributing again.

The unofficial ministry leaders never claimed the oil was magic or had supernatural powers, and they didn't sell it. They gave it away, but the His Name Is Flowing Oil ministry did accept donations that helped finance travel to bring the ministry to other places in the U.S. and Canada.

So is the former Dalton assemblage an authentic ministry with a gimmick, a fraud or something else?

The Bible has dozens of verses that mention oil anointings, anointed individuals and healings with oil. Mark 6:13, "And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them," is just one of those.

When the Dalton services were held, many people came to see the Bible, organizer Johnny Taylor said, but he said the Bible served as a way to bring people to the Christian faith.

Many traditional churches use oil as a representation of the healing power of the Holy Spirit, which is the manifestation of God that is said to live within us. The idea is that healing — physical or spiritual — comes not necessarily from the oil itself but in faith that the Holy Spirit can bring healing through God's creative design.

Were those in charge of His Name Is Flowing Oil ministry doing the same thing or something more devious?

If they were buying gallons of mineral oil at Tractor Supply, which they deny, filling their vials and distributing them to visitors at the services as if they had come from a flowing Bible — no matter the intent — they are false prophets. And all those who were told the oil flowed from the Bible were deceived.

As with oil, the Bible also has dozens of verses concerning false prophets. Matthew 24:24, "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect," is one of them.

Yet, we would never deny the possibility that God could allow oil to flow from a Bible, could cure a person of cancer whose case was considered terminal, could provide words that would stop a criminal in his tracks or could bring a woman back to life after having no pulse for 45 minutes. We've seen too many examples. You likely have too.

That's the difficult line that must be walked about faith. Jesus acknowledged that difficulty when Thomas, one of his 12 disciples, refused to believe Jesus had been resurrected from the dead even though he had been seen by some of the other 12. When Thomas finally saw him, proclaiming, "My Lord and my God," Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not yet seen and have believed."

We turn, then, to "those who have not yet seen and have believed." If individuals touched by the His Name Is Flowing Oil ministry were healed from diseases, cured from addictions or spiritually reborn, we tend to believe it was from their faith and trust in God, who they have not seen, not from the oil itself.

We won't know how many who were given the oil, and whose faith was just as strong, did not receive the healing they desired. Will their faith be weakened because of the experience? If so, what part of puttng their trust in the power of the oil play?

In the end, Hebrews 11:1-2, in The Message Bible, speaks to sound doctrine about faith.

"The fundamental fact of existence," it reads, "is that this trust in God, this faith [not the oil], is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd."