William Gay Ballantine, surveyor, engineer, Congregational minister, and fourth president of Oberlin College, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1848 to the Rev. Elisha Ballantine (1809-86) and Betsy Ann Watkins (1812-73). He spent his boyhood in Cincinnati where his father was professor of Hebrew at Lane Theological Seminary. Ballantine graduated from Marietta College in 1868 at the age of 20 and served briefly as assistant engineer on the staff of the Ohio geographical survey. In 1872, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary and entered upon post-graduate studies at the University of Leipzig. He interrupted his studies in 1873 to join the first American Palestine Expedition. A year later, he became Professor of Natural History and Chemistry at Ripon College in Wisconsin. In 1875, he married Emma Frances Atwood of Waupun, Wisconsin (d. 1919). Their children were Arthur Atwood, Henry Winthrop, Edward, and Mary Frances.
From 1876 to 1878, Ballantine served as Professor of Greek at the University of Indiana in Bloomington alongside his father, who also taught Greek there. He joined Oberlin College in 1878 to assist John Morgan as Professor of Greek and Hebrew Exegesis. After two years, he was elected Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature. In 1884, he became one of the editors of the Biblioteca Sacra, contributing numerous scholarly articlesto its pages. In 1889, Ballantine was named chairman of the general faculty, and in January 1891, the Board of Trustees,on the unanimous recommendation of the faculty, electedBallantine president, rejecting nominees Dr. Henry Hopkins of Kansas City, F.W. Kelsey of the University of Michigan, and Oberlin Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy John Millott Ellis (d. 1894).
As President, Ballantine believed that Oberlin's central mission as a Christian college--the training of ministers--must not lead to the sacrifice of academic excellence in secular subjects. He advocated the establishment of a Graduate School in Philosophy, Literature and Science which would award the degree of Ph.D. Unfortunately, national economic depression preventedthe realization of many of his goals. At Oberlin, the depression was evident in decreasing endowment income and enrollments; the catalog for May 1894 reported a loss of 95 students compared to the previous year. In the budget for 1896, presented in February 1895, Ballantine recommended significant fiscal cuts which involved postponing the growth of certain departments and suspending the hiring of young faculty members. Although the trustees voted in March 1896 to raise tuition from forty to fifty dollars per year in the College Department, the gain in income was insufficient to meet planned expenses. Protests against furthe cuts finally made it necessary for Ballantine to resign. He did so on June 22, 1896, subsequently refusing the trustees' offer of a professorship.
In the fall of 1897, after a year of study in Greece, Ballantine became Professor of Bible at the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, later known as Springfield College. To his post, he brought the reputation he had won for himself at Oberlin, as a gifted and inspiring teacher who sought to draw students away from a literal conception of the Bible to an appreciation of its complexities in light of modern scientific truth. This approach to Biblical instruction engendered controversy among the Y.M.C.A. leadership, and brought about a year-long investigation which resulted not only in exoneration of Ballantine but also in praise of his teaching, which was found to represent "the great body of evangelical belief."
After twenty-three years of teaching, Ballantine retired in 1921 to devote himself to writing. Among his publications are these: Inductive Logic (1896), The Young Man from Jerusalem (1921), Understanding the Bible (1925), Discovering Jesus (1927), and The Logic of Science (1933). His translation of the New Testament, known as the Riverside New Testament was highly acclaimed. He died at the age of 88 in Springfield on January 10, 1937.