In Volume 2 of his classic Systematic Theology, he discusses the objections to the PST. He writes:
It is said to be self-evident that the innocent cannot be guilty; and if not guilty he cannot be punished, for punishment is the judicial infliction of evil on account of guilt. As the Church doctrine, while maintaining the perfect sinlessness of Christ, teaches that He bore the guilt of sin, and therefore was regarded and treated as a sinner, that doctrine assumes both an impossibility and an act of injustice. It assumes that God regards things as they are not. He regards the innocent as guilty. This is an impossibility. And if possible for Him to treat the innocent as guilty, it would be an act of gross injustice (p. 530).He offers five responses to the problem:
1. That they avail nothing against the plain declaration of the Scriptures. If the Bible teaches that the innocent may bear the guilt of the actual transgressor; that He may endure the penalty incurred in his place, then it is in vain to say that this cannot be done (p. 530).This is just basically the same as the bumper sticker which says: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. It assumes that whatever the Bible says is equal to God's word and it assumes that it is so crystal clear that cannot be more than one interpretation of what it means. First, the assertion that the Bible is God's word is simply that, an assertion. It is a matter of faith. It cannot be proven. Second, Christians through the ages have not been able to come to a unified consensus on what the Bible means when it speaks of the atonement. There are multiple theories.
2. If it be said that these moral objections render it necessary to explain these representations of Scripture as figurative, or as anthropomorphic modes of expression, as when God is said to have eyes, to stand, or to walk, then the reply is that these representations are so didactic, are so repeated; and are so inwrought into the whole system of Scriptural doctrine, that they leave us no alternative but to receive them as the truths of God, or to reject the Bible as his word (p. 530).Frankly, I agree with Hodge here. I am aware of at least one evangelical theologian who says that the PST of the atonement is an accommodation to the understanding of the ancients and should not be seen as the way the atonement "really" works. He says that just as God accommodated himself in describing creation in six days, which should not be taken literally, God accommodated himself in describing the atonement in terms of penal substitution, but it shouldn't be taken literally. Hodge would argue and I would agree that if one does that, then one is rejecting the Bible as the Word of God and cannot be considered an evangelical.
3. Rejecting the Bible does not help the matter. We cannot reject the facts of providence. Where is the propriety of saying that the innocent cannot justly suffer for the guilty, when we see that they actually do thus suffer continually, and everywhere since the world began? There is no moral principle asserted in the Bible, which is not carried out in providence. God says He will visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate Him. And so He does, and ever has done. Are we so confident in ourselves as to deny that there is a just God who governs the world, rather than admit that the innocent may rightfully bear the iniquity of the guilty? In teaching the doctrine of legal substitution, of the transfer of guilt from the transgressor to the innocent, of the satisfaction of justice by vicarious punishment, the Bible asserts and assumes no moral principle which does not underlie all the providential dealings of God with individuals or with nations (pp. 530-31).Hodge maintains that not only does the Bible teach that the innocent may suffer in place of the guilty but that the providence of God in history demonstrates the fact. He is right that the Pentateuch does mention three times the phrase: "God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (Ex. 20:5, Num 14:18, Deut. 5:9). What Hodge fails to mention, however, is that this punishment of the children for the deeds of their forefathers seems to be revoked in Ezekiel 18:2-4, 20:
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. . . . The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him (NIV)Could it be that the moral sensibilities of some of the Hebrews were evolving? They were bothered by the notion of the innocent sons being punished for the sins of their forefathers. Certainly, God did punish the innocent along with the guilty many times in the OT. For example, the extermination of all the Canaanites, including their infants and children. The extermination of the Amalekites, including infants and children, for what their forefathers had done 400 years prior. The stoning of Achan's entire family for what he personally did. However, it may be that this "collective culpability" is beginning to be seen as morally problematic by the author of Ezekiel and some of the other Hebrews. Thus, Ezekiel 18 says God will no longer punish the children for what their forefathers have done.
The truth is that many primitive societies had a "collective culpability" mentality. If one of the group (family, tribe, or nation) was guilty of a crime, then the whole group was guilty. This, I think, is the basis upon which Paul in Romans 5 tries to establish the culpability of the entire human race for the sin of Adam. Collective culpability made sense to many ancients who with their primitive morality and their clannish societies thought in terms of group sins. Modern man's sense of morality, however, has evolved to realize that it is wrong to hold an innocent individual culpable for what his or her group does. This issue was discussed at length in the philosophical literature after WW II with regard to whether the whole German nation should be held responsible for what the Nazis had done, especially to the Jews. The consensus was that it would be unjust to hold every person within a group responsible for what some or even the majority within the group did (See Collective Responsibility: Five Decades of Debate in Theoretical and Applied Ethics, edited by Larry May and Stacey Hoffman, 1991).
So, while Hodge is right that one can find "collective culpability" in the OT, two facts are important to remember. One, technically there was no punishing the innocent in these cases since the whole group was seen to be collectively responsible. Two, there is evidence in the OT itself, that some people's sense of justice was being violated by this "collective culpability" and thus there was beginning a move away from the concept to more of the modern concept of "individual responsibility."
4. Men constantly deceive themselves by postulating as moral axioms what are nothing more than the forms in which their feelings or peculiar opinions find expression. To one man it is an axiom that a holy God cannot permit sin, or a benevolent God allow his creatures to be miserable; and he, therefore, infers either that there is no God, or that He cannot control the acts of free agents. To another it is self-evidently true that a free act cannot be certain, and therefore that there can be no foreordination, or foreknowledge, or prediction of the occurrence of such acts. To another, it is self-evident that a merciful God cannot permit any portion of his rational creatures to remain forever under the dominion of sin and suffering. There would be no end of controversy, and no security for any truth whatever, if the strong personal convictions of individual minds be allowed to determine what is, or what is not true, what the Bible may, and what it may not, be allowed to teach (p. 531).Hodge is correct that man has many subjective notions of what is right and wrong. However, the notion that the innocent should not be punished for what the guilty has done seems to be virtually universal. The fact that no human system of jurisprudence allows such and the fact that it instinctively and intuitively seems wrong to all men even from infancy (see Bloom's research), this particular concept of morality or justice is about as close as one can get to an objective ethic.
Hodge goes on to recognize that there are, in his opinion, objective moral principles which have been implanted in man through natural revelation but he denies that punishing an innocent in place of the guilty is one of them.
It must be admitted, however, that there are moral intuitions, founded on the constitution of our nature, and constituting a primary revelation of the nature of God, which no external revelation can possibly contradict. The authority of these intuitive truths is assumed or fully recognized in the Bible itself. They have, however, their criteria. They cannot be enlarged or diminished. No man can add to, or detract from, their number. Those criteria are, (1.) They are all recognized in the Scriptures themselves. (2.) They are universally admitted as true by all rational minds. (3.) They cannot be denied. No effort of the will, and no sophistry of the understanding can destroy their authority over the reason and conscience (p. 531).I would argue against Hodge that each one of his three criteria is met with regard to the principle of punishing the innocent in place of the guilty. (1) Ezekiel 18, as shown above, does reject the notion of punishing the innocent. (2) I believe this notion is universal, again as stated above. (3) I don't think any amount of "sophistry," as Hodge calls it, can overthrow the conscience of man that it is never right to punish an innocent person. As I have shown in this series, there has been many different attempts to rationalize or explain the justice of punishing an innocent but none have succeeded. It still strikes the conscience of man as wrong. No matter how much good might come from it, it is still itself, an unjust act.
5. It is very evident that the principle that “the innocent cannot justly be punished for the guilty,” cannot stand the application of the above-mentioned criteria. So far from being recognized in the Bible, it is contrary to its plainest declarations and facts. So far from being universally received among men as true, it has never been received at all as part of the common faith of mankind. The substitution of the innocent for the guilty, of victims for transgressors in sacrifice, of one for many; the idea of expiation by vicarious punishment, has been familiar to the human mind in all ages. It has been admitted not only as possible, but as rational, and recognized as indicating the only method by which sinful men can be reconciled to a just and holy God. It is not, therefore, to be admitted that it conflicts with any intuition of the reason or of the conscience; on the contrary it is congenial with both (pp. 531-32).Hodge makes many assertions here but offers no evidence. I can only surmise that he means that in the history of religions, there have been many sacrifices made to gods of innocent persons. These sacrifices were thought to propitiate or placate the gods' anger. He is right about that. It has been a practice of primitive cultures but is universally rejected today. What Hodge does not show is that any human system of jurisprudence has an established principle that it is just for an innocent to take the place of the guilty in punishment. This simple fact illustrates clearly that mankind universally agrees that such an action would be immoral and unjust.
It is no doubt frequently the case that opposition to this doctrine arises from a misapprehension of the terms in which it is expressed. By guilt many insist on meaning personal criminality and ill desert; and by punishment evil inflicted on the ground of such personal demerit. In these senses of the words the doctrine of satisfaction and vicarious punishment would indeed involve an impossibility (p. 532).But that is exactly what the PST is saying, in my opinion. If personal guilt does not derive from personal criminality, then from what does it arise? The essence of the retributive theory of punishment, which no doubt the Bible teaches (e.g., lex talonis ), is that a crime deserves punishment. This desert applies only to the individual who is responsible for the crime. The PST teaches that every man deserves the penalty of death because every man has sinned (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). It is this penalty that Jesus takes in the place of man (Rom. 5:8; I Pet. 2:24).
Hodge continues his explanation:
Moral character cannot be transferred. The Remonstrants were right in saying that man cannot be good with another’s goodness, any more than he can be white with another’s whiteness. And if punishment means evil inflicted on the ground of personal demerit, then it is a contradiction to say that the innocent can be punished (emphasis mine). But if guilt expresses only the relation of sin to justice, and is the obligation under which the sinner is placed to satisfy its demands, then there is nothing in the nature of things, nothing in the moral nature of man, nothing in the nature of God as revealed either in his providence or in his word, which forbids the idea that this obligation may on adequate grounds be transferred from one to another, or assumed by one in the place of others (p. 532).I have to confess that Hodge has lost me here. He seems to admit my point that punishment for personal demerit cannot be transferred but then says that if guilt expresses only the relation of sin to justice, and is the obligation under which the sinner is placed to satisfy its demands, then punishment can be transferred. What he means by guilt expressing the relation of sin to justice and it being the obligation under which the sinner is placed, is not at all clear to me. He does not elaborate on this point but moves on to another topic in his book. So, he leaves us with a great deal of ambiguity but whatever he means by his statement does not seem to in any way permit the punishment of the innocent in place of the guilty. It is another failed attempt, in my opinion, to justify the PST.