lds-temple-font-oxen

In all Mormon temples, there are statues (usually white stone) of what appear to be bulls under the baptismal font.  Technically, they aren’t bulls at all, but you’d be forgiven for not understanding the anatomical differences between bulls and oxen.

The “bull” statues (again, actually oxen) represent the twelve tribes of Israel, who were promised great blessings by God.  When a person is baptized, she is adopted into one of the twelve tribes if she is not already born into one.  The purpose of the bull sculptures is merely to remind those who participate in temple baptisms of the promises they can receive.  To understand this symbolism fully, we need to cover a little Biblical history.

Understanding the Biblical Background behind the Sculptures

In Solomon’s temple, there were twelve oxen and a baptismal font (See 1 Kings 7, and 2 Chronicles 4) known as the molten sea.  That same tradition is continued in Mormon temples today, where a baptismal font is placed on the back of sculptures of 12 oxen.

Abraham’s grandson was named Jacob, but his name subsequently changed to Israel.  Israel had twelve sons, and each of them were given blessings by their father before his death.  One was blessed to rule until the coming of the Messiah (Judah), another was promised the Priesthood (Levi), etc.  These children and their descendants made up the twelve tribes.

Despite periods of righteousness, the twelve tribes of Israel (Abraham’s lineage) rebelled against God.  God afflicted and scattered these people across the earth.  This was an important Biblical event that had been prophesied and spoken of by the prophets (See Leviticus 23:33, Deuteronomy 28, etc).

The Lord has promised to gather the descendants of the family of Israel again before Christ’s second coming (See Ezekiel 28:25 as an example–there are many).  Although some literal gathering of these people into one place may occur, the gathering of Israel is mostly a return of the Lord’s promised people to the family of faith.

The bull sculptures in Mormon temples represent the twelve tribes of Israel returning to the family of faith through baptism.   All who are baptized are figuratively brought into the family of faith that began with the twelve tribes of Israel who were promised great blessings by God.

Why are the Twelve Tribes Represented by Oxen?

Oxen are a symbol of strength and power.  Few more powerful animals exist than the ox.  The ox is a symbol of the strength of the family of faith.  For although the twelve tribes would be scattered across the globe for many generations, the strength of the family would bring them back together.

Oxen are often used in scripture as representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  The Children of Israel gave gifts and offerings at the dedication of the tabernacle.  The gifts were carried in six wagons by twelve oxen.

“Almost one hundred years after the temple was constructed, King Ahaz of Judah remodeled the “sea” by removing the oxen and setting the font upon a stone foundation. (See 2 Kgs. 16:17.) The original oxen or their replacements may have been restored later as the support for the font; Jeremiah reported that the Babylonians destroyed the “twelve brasen bulls.” (See Jer. 52:17, 20.)” [Source: Edward J. Brandt.  Ensign, March 1993]

10 Comments

  1. The temple pool was used for ceremonial cleansing and had nothing to do with Christian baptism – but t hen, Mormons are about as far from Christianity as one can get.

    1. @Carol – You said that the temple pool was for ceremonial cleansing and has nothing to do with baptism. Baptism is a ceremony which cleanses sin and signifies a new life. Baptism IS ceremonial cleansing.

      I’m surprised that you would go out of your way to say that Mormons are not Christian. The Savior spent his entire life convincing others to believe in Him and trying to spread Christianity. It’s sad to me that you desire to spend your time doing the opposite of what Christ did. You’re trying to convince me that I’m NOT a Christian. I firmly believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and the only means of salvation, and I try to live my life in a way that would please Him.

      1. Its ok to be ‘Disappointed’ but don’t be “Sad” – Even within the LDS community we can ask 20 different members what it means to be “LDS” and we will get 20 different answers- Such, as I believe that we shouldn’t put a ‘Name’ on Religion as if its a franchise of Subway… either you’re Christian or you’re Not- We who are Saved know who we are, we not only ‘Know’… we can ‘Feel’ it.

    2. Why Do People of Faith Continue To Belittle Others Of Faith Simply Because They Do Not Attend Their Fellowship. The Answer Is Of Course: They Simply Have Not Learned To Walk In Love. So Lets Bake Some Bread:. We are going to take for ingredients, a little of the Mormons, a little of the Baptists, a little of the Catholics, a little of the Lutherans, a little of the Presbyterians, A little of the Evangelicals, and so forth, mix it up, place into a container, and put it into an oven made of clay, and bake it:. Whose Does This Bread Belong To? It Belongs To Christ:.

  2. thank you for educating me on this beautiful symbolism. As someone unfamiliar with the details of the Mormon faith, I really appreciate your willing to share your knowledge. I hope others can see that this takes courage and love to do, no matter your faith. so thank you

    *side note, I found this article through happenstance, because I was searching for other things, saw the picture and then opened your article. When I went to comment, I noticed we had a similar family name, I have only met one other besides my nearest relatives. fancy that! very cool!

    1. Wow! How cool! There is a pretty big group of Harmers in the Utah/Idaho area, but very few elsewhere. I guess there’s Harmersville Pennsylvania too. Where do you live?

  3. I found out about this practice only recently and certainly appreciate the symbolism. I am curious though about the development of the practice based on the scriptures provided because the object described in the Temple proper was used for the ceremonial cleansing of the hands and feet prior to participation in Temple rites/sacrifices. Full body immersion was performed in private outside of the Temple (evidenced by the many mikvahs found by archeologists outside the mount) and would have been a prerequisite to entering the Temple proper.

  4. I just ask this question to have a good understanding, the 12 bulls around the pull are they not acting like falls gos as in some religion the worship cow or bull statues?

    1. We definitely DON’T worship the bull statues… ever. At all. It’s just a decoration to remind temple visitors of God’s family of people on earth all being connected into one family through the gospel. We all can receive God’s promises of old to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the gospel and be gathered again as the twelve tribes of Israel.

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