He was born in Hillsboro, Texas. He graduated with his B.D. from Columbia Theological Seminary and his Th.M. and Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas. He served Presbyterian churches in Decatur, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Cleburne, Texas before he moved with his wife to Pasadena, California, where he accepted a position at the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church.
He moved from Pasadena to Los Angeles and became the pastor of the Church of the Open Door in 1949, where he continued as pastor until 1970. McGee also served as the chair fo the Bible department at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (currently Biola University) and as a visiting lecturer at Dallas Theological Seminary.
In 1967, he began the Thru the Bible Radio Network program. In a systematic study of each book of the Bible, Dr. McGee took his listeners from Genesis to Revelation in a two and one-half year "Bible bus trip," as he called it. After retiring from the pastorate in January, 1970, and realizing that two and a half years was not enough time to teach the Bible, McGee completed another study of the entire Bible in a five year period. Thru the Bible is broadcast on TransWorld Radio in the UK every weekday.
Dr. McGee continued many speaking engagements after he retired, refusing to be slowed by a bout of cancer from which he fully recovered. However, a heart problem surgically corrected in 1965 resurfaced, and he died in his sleep in 1988. After his death, the five-year program of Thru the Bible continues to air on over 400 radio stations in North America, and is heard in more than 100 languages and is broadcast worldwide via radio, shortwave, and the internet.