Deep symbolism may be at the heart of Jesus' first recorded miracle: the turning of water into wine. Eric D. Huntsman wrote in the premiere issue of "Studies in the Bible and Antiquity" about "blood and water imagery" in the Gospel of John and how that imagery may explain why the first miracle of Jesus was a sign of his divine sonship.

The four gospels in the New Testament approach the life of Christ from different points of view with different audiences in mind. The Gospel of John is especially unique in the approach it takes. Huntsman, an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU, traced the symbolism of blood and water in John's writings.

Blood is symbolic of mortality. It is what nourishes earthly bodies (see Genesis 9:4).

Water is symbolic of eternal life. It represents the spiritual.

The first birth is one of flesh and blood. The second birth is water and spirit (John 3:3-5).

"The correlation of blood with mortality on the one hand and water with spiritual — even divine or eternal — life on the other can be consistently applied throughout John," Huntsman wrote.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar with wine being a stand-in of sorts for blood. Even though John's Gospel doesn't mention the institution of the sacrament directly, the idea of wine representing blood is not an alien idea.

The account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) speaks of Jesus' miracle of turning water into fine wine as "this beginning of miracles." Huntsman wrote that the word translated as "miracles" could also be translated as "signs" or "miraculous signs."

"Rather than downplaying the reality and power of Jesus' miracles," Huntsman wrote, "this translation emphasizes what the (miraculous signs) symbolize or teach about Jesus … rather than focusing on the acts themselves."

Huntsman explained that many commentators, including Mormons, have looked at multiple interpretations of the changing of the water to wine. Some see a replacement of Jewish rituals with Christ's blood, others look at the implications of abundance in the 120 gallons of wine created, others think of the sacrament or of Jesus' power over the elements.

But looking at the symbolism of the event yields deeper meaning.

"This miracle's context suggests a connection with the relationship of Jesus, the bridegroom, and the church, the bride," Huntsman wrote (see John 3:29, Revelation 21:1-9, D&C 65:3 and D&C 133:10).

Mary's role in this miracle is particularly significant, Huntsman wrote, particularly since she is mentioned only in two places in the Gospel of John — here at Cana and later at the cross. Unlike the Matthew and Luke, she is not mentioned in any nativity narrative — or is she?

John does not name Mary in his Gospel, but calls her "the mother of Jesus." Jesus simply calls her "woman."

"While efforts have been made to explain Jesus' reference to her as 'woman' as a sign of respect or deference, there is little precedent for this in either Greek or the presumed original Aramaic words of Jesus," Huntsman wrote.

Instead, Huntsman suggested that the avoidance of her specific individual name "may well have a generalizing effect, connecting Mary with Eve."

The emphasis, Huntsman wrote, seems to be on the "actual relationship of Mary and Jesus."

"Mary's role in the conception of Jesus was specifically to bring him into a mortal or earthly state," Huntsman wrote. "As Eve was the agent whereby mankind was brought into mortality, Mary was the means by which the premortal, spiritual and divine Word became the earthly Jesus."

The water turned into wine/blood. The eternal entering mortality. Jehovah turned into Jesus.

The description of the miracle at Cana may be John's symbolic way to tell about the nativity, Huntsman wrote.

If it is, then this first miracle or sign of Jesus' ministry points directly to the first miracle and sign of Christ's condescension: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

This article is based on Eric D. Huntsman's article "'And the Word Was Made Flesh': A Latter-day Saint Exegesis of the Blood and Water Imagery in the Gospel of John" in "Studies in the Bible and Antiquity," Vol. 1, 2009 published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.