Why I Read “Twelve Ordinary Men” written by John MacArthur

It seemed fitting if I want to understand who Jesus was, that knowing more about some of the most significant people in his life would help.

 “You are the company you keep.” 

So, I decided to read “Twelve Ordinary Men” written by John MacArthur.

Relatively a short read, a little over 200 pages it was easy to pick up and get started. Unlikely some of the large more academic books available which mear size are daunting. Often scaring me away from reading before even getting started.

If you are not familiar with John MacArthur, he is a pastor, author, and Bible teacher.

Serving as the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since 1969, his radio program “Grace to You” can be heard on hundreds of radio stations around the world. His books have been translated into dozens of languages, and millions of copies have been sold worldwide.

Initial Thoughts Twelve Ordinary Men

Having read previous books by John MacArthur, I was not surprised that he writes with a very high-view view of Jesus and Scriptures.

Basing most of his information about the 12 apostles on an in-depth look at select related Bible verses. I discovered things that I never knew about the apostles even after reading the gospels many times.

While emphasizing that the apostles were both ordinary men who still accomplished an amazing feat of transforming the world.

 “Yet with all their faults and character flaws-as remarkable as they were- these men carried on a ministry after Jesus’ ascension that left an indelible impact on the world”


I slightly disagree with his premise, in that as much as the Christian movement had its humble origin story starting with the disciples. Historical references to these men are small, causing me to doubt how great of an impact they actually had. Unlike Paul, who was not one of the 12 but wrote over half of the New Testament and planted churches throughout the Mediterranean, leaving no doubt of his impact on the development of the church.

But that aside, these men were significant in the life and ministry of Jesus.

This book does an incredible job of drawing out details about the apostles beyond a simple reading of the gospels. Often highlighting what we can learn about their characters based on what they said or did around Jesus.

In particular.

MacArthur beautifully lays out what we know about the men’s character when they first meet Jesus. Followed by character development, which occurred as they spent time with Jesus. Which I both enjoyed and found inspirational.

That is one aspect of this book that I both loved and hated.

MacArthur is a pastor wanting to inspire people. Often spending much time drumming up the inspirational aspect about the apostle over the historical relevance information.

Often border more as an inspirational devotional read than historical one.

Another helpful part of the book is brief summaries provided for each for the apostles. Helping you understand the man in less than 10 words, often even less.

Summary of Content of Twelve Ordinary Men

Interestingly the book only has 10 chapters, not 12 and a short introduction.

The Introduction of Twelve Ordinary Men explains why John MacArthur chose to write about the individuals Jesus picked as his apostles. Coming from a sermon series that he enjoyed preaching and researching.

Then jumping to an introduction to the group as a whole. Chapter 1 discusses how common the men were but how significant their calling was from Jesus.

Elaborating on the time spent they spent with Jesus, the tasks he had them perform, and how he went about training them. To become the men that we think of.

Short Write Ups about Twelve Ordinary Men

Chapters 2 through 10 provide an individual look at each of the apostles. Starting with a dedicated chapter to Peter, followed by 5 more of the more well know apostles, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Nathanael.

The material known about the remaining 5 is less and is presented in two chapters. Still insightful, but with less depth.

Finally, ending with probably the most notorious of the twelve, Judas the Iscariot.

Each bio starts with a short introduction, name meanings, and where they came from, etc.

Followed by all we know about what type of men they were when they first met Jesus. Again it is impressive how much information MacArthur can glean from a few short verses.

Continue with how these men’s character was transformed by Jesus. Serving both as informative and to be inspiring for all of us “ordinary people.”

Next to Peter, the section on Judas is the second largest.

But serves as much as a cautionary tale as a character sketch. Again may be a slight shortcoming in MacArthur’s mindset. He’s going to encourage you and spur you on to good works. Possibly more than he is going to give you the facts about a person.


Is Twelve Ordinary Men worth a read?

Maybe, after reading it I have two reasons why you should read it and two reasons not to.

So not a must-have, but it does have some value.

My Reasons to Read Twelve Ordinary Men

Excellent short chapters giving an excellent overview of each of Jesus’ disciples.

If you are wondering about what Andrew was like, or any of the other 12. In a few minutes, you can have a good overview of what type of man he was. Plus, what significant things are recorded in the bible about them.

This is why it is one of my sources for my mini bio about people in Jesus’ life.

If you are a little hesitant about everything you have heard about the apostles online or in tabloids, it is nice that most of MacArthur’s information is from one of the most trusted sources about the life of Jesus, the gospels.

Regardless if you agree with his interpretation, you can check out the original source, or at least a translation of it, and draw your own conclusions.

My Reasons Not to Read Twelve Ordinary Men

Early I said it was good that MacArthur based most of his information of the information in the gospels about the apostles. But this can also be a drawback.

The gospels are not really written about the disples but about Jesus. Limiting how much information we have about them.

There are other ancient writings about the lives of the apostles, but MacArthurs rarely references these. And when he does, he just credits church tradition, not the actual text.

So if you are looking for more than a character bible study, keep looking.

Twelve Ordinary Men is not trying to do a historical dive into the lives of the apostles. It’s merely expanding on what you can read in the bible.

I also find MacArthur a little preachy at times.

Trying to weave in spiritual lessons beyond simply the historical information.

Which makes some points longer than they need to be. Along with raising questions about how historically accurate the information is. When he is trying too hard to make a point about who you should be beyond what Philip or any of the apostles did.

Yes, Philip was part of feeding the 5 000, but does this really mean that I need to be a man of vision beyond what I can see?

Overall it was a good read, but keep in mind it is based on sermons preached in his church, not a research paper on the lives of the twelve apostles of Jesus. This will keep your expectations in the right space.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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