Is Mormon christology Trinitarian in the sense of seeing Jesus as having always existed? Or is it Arian as seeing him as the first being created by God and used as the agent in creation of everything else? Is it adoptionist in viewing Jesus as being born a mere man and exalted or "deified" at some later point? Or is it a type of Sabelianism (i.e. Jesus being a man but with the Father dwelling in him)? Does it accept him as the Platonic logos?
None of the above, Mormon christology is Mormonism.
Although this wikipedia article names The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a modern Christian group which may be seen as espousing some of the principles of Arianism.
Latter-day Saints believe God the Eternal Father to be our literal father in Heaven, the father of the spirits of all mankind, just as literally as our fathers on earth are the fathers of our bodies. Jesus Christ is the eldest spirit child of our father in heaven, and only begotten in the flesh, chosen before the creation of the universe to be the saviour and redeemer of all mankind.
Below is an excerpt from chapter 4 of the LDS Sunday school doctrines of the gospel student manual.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God
Jesus Christ is literally the son of God the Eternal Father.
- Jesus Christ is the firstborn spirit son of God (see D&C 93:21; Colossians 1:13–15; Hebrews 1:5–6).
- Jesus Christ is the only begotten son of God in the flesh (see JST, John 1:1, 13–14; 1 Nephi 11:14–22; Jacob 4:5, 11; Alma 5:48; D&C 20:21; 76:22–24).
Jesus Christ is a being of glory, might, and majesty.
- Jesus Christ has a resurrected body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22; Luke 24:36–39; 3 Nephi 11:12–15).
- Jesus Christ possesses all power in heaven and on earth (see D&C 93:17; 100:1; Matthew 28:18; 1 Peter 3:21–22).
- Jesus Christ possesses a fulness of the perfection, attributes, and glory of the Father (see 3 Nephi 12:48; D&C 38:1–3; Colossians 1:19; 2:9–10; D&C 93:4, 12–17).
- Jesus Christ is the light and the life of the world (see D&C 88:5–13; 93:2, 9; John 1:4; 8:12; 3 Nephi 9:18).
Christology and the Divinity of Christ
What Does it Mean to be a God or to be Divine?
Anselm of Canterbury, Aquinas, Athanasius, King Benjamin, and Alma all agreed that Christ must be God if he is to be able to offer himself as an infinite and eternal sacrifice for sin. Latter-day Saint theology affirms that Christ is God, but in what sense? From where is his divinity and Godhood derived? From his spirit or body or substance?
First, a definition of “God” and “divine” is required. God is consistently affirmed to possess certain distinguishing characteristics and attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, infinite nature, immutability, creator, and is a holy being worthy of worship and prayer. Under this definition only God the Father and Jesus Christ are truly divine in their godhood. Yet, scripture provides another definition of god that is more inclusive:
Then shall they be gods,  because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue;  then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them.  Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them (D&C 132: 20). Those who become gods: are eternal, above all things, have all power, are “given all things” and receive of the Father’s “fulness” (D&C 76:56-58).
Christ’s Biological Versus Spiritual Ontology
Some, like James Talmage and Ezra Benson, have reasoned that Christ’s divinity comes from his divine Father who literally begat him, thus making his body divine. In this sense, his status as “the only begotten” is his source of unique divinity. Yet, that would imply a literal insemination by God the Father or some other physical transfer to create Christ in Mary’s womb. It would follow that 23 chromosomes of Christ would come from God the Father instilling divinity into Jesus. However, if Christ is to be fully God, then you cannot concede that his divinity is derived from his body, because part of his body (whether it be 23 chromosomes or only a small portion) comes from Mary. Thus his body can in no way be fully God, because, again, it is part human and comes from Mary.
Furthermore, if Christ were to have a divine body literally sired by the Father in the flesh, then he would no longer be entirely human: able to suffer, die, and relate to all of humanity. Plus, at no time is God the Father’s offspring corporally physical; rather his offspring is said to be “spirit” (Hebrews 12:9 “the Father of spirits”). If God the Father and a resurrected female could produce divine physical bodies, then there would be no purpose for an earthly existence of suffering to obtain a body as seen in the “plan of salvation.”
The only way that Christ can be fully God is if his divinity is derived from his Spirit, which is affirmed to be fully God. Rather than deriving divinity from a divine Father, Christ is spoken of as being divine independent of God the Father. “Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent” is the “infinite and eternal sacrifice;” “therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world” (Mosiah 5:15; Alma 34:10; Alma 42:15). And again, “God himself shall come down among the children of men” (Mosiah 15:1).
Christ’s Body and Spirit
In scripture it is Christ’s ante-mortal being, his spirit, that is clearly identified as divine and not his body. Abinadi taught that “Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man…and that God should come down…and take upon him flesh and blood” (Mosiah 7:27). Nephi sees Christ’s condescension in vision and affirms that Mary is a “virgin” and “is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1 Nephi 11:18; 1830 edition). The fact that Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s birth negates the later teaching that the Father sired Christ in the same way we sire children here (i.e. sex). The miraculous virgin birth was fulfilment of prophecy and emphasized Christ’s heavenly origin.
Christ’s body was never spoken of as uniquely divine, but as “flesh” and “clay.” In fact, Christ deprived himself of outward divinity and instead chose the form of a human servant (see Philippians 2:7). His body, composed of elements, is “the tabernacle of God,” which is to say that his “body” is not God, rather what is inside is God (Doctrine Covenants 93:35). This conforms well with King Benjamins declaration: “with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:5; emphasis added). Again we see the divine spirit of Christ entering inside a mortal body. “In [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;” the Greek word for “in” meaning interior or inside (Colossians 2:9).
In fact, scripture makes clear that Christ’s designation as “Son” is because of his humanity and its inherent limitations, while his spirit is indeed the divine “Father.” In a sense he is demoted and “called the Son of God” because he “made flesh [his] tabernacle” and because “he dwelleth in flesh” (Mosiah 15:2–4 ;D&C 93:4). Abinadi speaks of Christ subjecting his flesh to the will of his spirit or in other words the Son submitting to the will of the Father (both son and father referring to Christ; Mosiah 15:5). Christ is the “Father” because “he was conceived by the power of God” and because the Father “gave [him] of his fulness” (Mosiah 15:3; D&C 93:4).
Now, when Abinadi says that Christ is “the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God,” Abinadi is saying that Christ is the Father because Christ was conceived by the power of Christ; thus he is the Father of his mortal body born of Mary, because there was no other “father” to sire Christ, or else Christ would obviously not be both father and son. What follows is Christ “becoming the Father and the Son…one God.” This is not Abinadi’s reasoning alone. Christ himself said he would come to earth “to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me [Christ’s spirit], and of the Son because of my flesh” (3 Nephi1:14). In conclusion, Christ is God and is divine independent of God the Father. Orthodox Christianity is correct in asserting that Christ’s body was truly human, which was necessary for him to be able to suffer, relate to all of humanity, and die on the cross. His body was flesh, clay, and dust the same as ours and yet was inhabited by deity.
The Firstborn and The Only Begotten
Still, the question must be answered: How then is Jesus the “firstborn” and “only begotten” if not in any literal sense? Firstborn could refer to the fact that he is God’s heir of all things and has preeminence above all creation (Colossians 1:15). This follows the ancient tradition in which the firstborn is lord over his brethren and receives his father’s estate. The Greek word “prototokos” refers to the eldest, the first born, and the first among others. Therefore, it is rightly said that Christ was the firstborn in the premortal realm, yet what that birth in the spiritual realm entailed is unclear.
As to his title as the “Only Begotten of the Father,” Christ was referred to as such long before his physically birth. It may be that Christ was begotten in some way prior to physical birth and that “only begotten” does not refer to mortal conception. For example, Moses records that at creation: “I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so” (Moses 2:26). Nephi speaks of the day that “the Only Begotten of the Father…shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh” (2 Nephi 25:12). God declares to Christ the firstbegotten, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee;” these passages are not spoken necessarily in reference to his physical birth (Hebrews 1:5–6, 5:5).
In both the Printer’s Manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon Alma twice refers to Jesus as the Son of himself in the same sense that Abinadi does, referring to the “son” as the mortal form of Christ the Eternal Father. First, “Jesus Christ shall come yea the Son of the only begotten of the Father.” And again, referring to the priesthood as “the order of the Son of the only begotten of the Father.” Both of these occurrences were written by the mysterious “scribe 2” who copied about 15 percent of the printer’s manuscript. While they could simply be scribal errors it does add to the holistic investigation of the phrase “only begotten.”
How is Christ Ontologically Different?
All of humanity has an eternal spirit and intelligence that was never created and has always existed. Our spirits “have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end” (Abraham 3:18). Joseph explained this verse many times: “The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal.” Furthermore, “The mind or intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself” and “there never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven.” Thus, we are equally eternal in that our primal element and matter is coequal with the uncreated substance of the divine Christ. If all spirits are eternally self-existent, then what makes Chris uniquely divine?
How is Christ God
How Christ is eternal and without beginning and simultaneously the firstborn is not clear. Also, Terryl Givens adds, “The question of how Christ could be fully divine premortally, and at the same time literally begotten in the spirit by the Father, has never been fully resolved in Mormon doctrine.” While revelation has not answered these questions, the First Presidency gave an official exposition on how they understood the divinity and uniqueness of Christ: He is essentially greater than any or all others, by reason (1) of His seniority as the oldest or firstborn; (2) of His unique status in the flesh as the offspring of a mortal mother and of an immortal, or resurrected and glorified, Father; (3) of His selection and foreordination as the one and only Redeemer and Savior of the race; and (4) of His transcendent sinlessness.
The intelligence and eternal substance of Christ is and was “a person, because” intelligence “is possessed of powers that go with personality only” and they are “self-conscious” agents able to choose. When Christ was chosen to become the Father’s firstborn it may be because Christ was inherently superior to all the other intelligences. In fact, he is said to be “more intelligent than they all” and it is reasonable to suppose that he existed with the Father for eons and eons in one-on-one relationship with the Father before any other spirit children came into existence as God’s children (Abraham 3:19).
Christ Unique in His Divinity
Still, this basis of divinity is only unique in rank and accumulation of intelligence. Is Christ not God in some way besides his position as firstborn and his exceptional obedience and proximity to the Father? Those who become gods are eternal, above all things, have all power, are “given all things” and receive of the Father’s “fulness” (D&C 76:56-58; 132: 20). Thus, those who become gods can be like God in that they are eternal, receive omnipotent power, and have the potential to create and possibly accept adoration from their posterity. Nonetheless, the immutability of deified humans is not equal to the immutability of Christ who possessed all attributes of divinity prior to his earthly experience, whereas humanity will only possess them after eons of eternity. Additionally, total omniscience, including the ability to read others’ thoughts, is reserved for God only and it is never intimated that deified beings will obtain it. For the ability to understand the thoughts of an infinite being (God the Father and Son) would require an infinite capacity on the part of the thought-reader.
None other than God the Father and Christ are ever spoken of as “infinite” beings. The infinite nature inherent in God is entirely unique from the finite nature of all other beings including those deified as gods. One may posit that “infinite” is simply a synonym of eternal. Yet, the primary and contemporary definition is the following: Without limits; unbounded; boundless; not circumscribed; applied to time, space and qualities. God is infinite in duration, having neither beginning nor end of existence. He is also infinite in presence, or omnipresent, and his perfections are infinite.
The omnipresence of the Father and of Christ is due to their infinite nature and provides a unique component of their divinity as God. Christ is everywhere present and able to “fill heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalms 139:7–8). His power and influence permeate as the light of Christ to “fill the immensity of space” (D&C 88:12).
In conclusion, Christ is God due to his divine nature and characteristics: omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, infinity, immutability, status as creator, and due to his being holy and worthy of worship and prayer. Christ is preeminent and superior to all others who become gods, not only because of his rank and intelligence, but because of his immutability, total omniscience, and infinite nature, which the gods will not possess in any equal way.
There is nothing new under the Sun, Mormon Christology is a mixture of many theological positions:
- Arianism, 'There was time when the Son was not.' Mormon and Arian believe the Son was not pre-exist prior to His generation as the Father's First Born in Heaven. But supposed Joseph Smith Jr., were living during the Arian controversy Arius would condemned him because he denied that God is eternally divine. Mormon believes God the Father was once a man.
- Origenism, 'The pre-existence of soul before living on the Earth.' Mormon and Origenist believe the soul existed before we were born on Earth. But supposed Joseph Smith Jr., were living during Origen's lifetime he would be condemned by Origen because he denied that our pre-existent souls were merely human not divine. Mormon teaches that we were once divine children of the Father in Heaven.
So it's imprecise to say that Mormon Christology is none of the above. Mormonism is unique in a sense that modern day Jehovah Witnesses is distinct from Arianism, because while JWs believe the Logos was an archangel Michael Arians never believed such thing. There is nothing new under the sun and Mormonism is no exception. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a modern Christian group which may be seen as espousing a mixture of the principles of Arianism, Origenism, and many other.