Jones was born in Cleveland, Tennessee, the son of Fannie May (Holmes) and Bob Jones, Jr. Jones moved with his family to Greenville, South Carolina, in 1947 when Bob Jones College built a new campus and became Bob Jones University. Because his father was a connoisseur of the arts, Jones III early visited Europe and the Levant on his father's summer tours. As a teenager he was given minor roles in campus Shakespeare performances and a major role in the film version of his father's novel Wine of Morning. Likewise, as the son and grandson of well-known fundamentalists, Jones III met many politicians and notable preachers in his youth.
At fifteen, his father rusticated him to a summer camp sponsored by Ernest Reveal, a BJU board member and the founder of the Evansville Rescue Mission, where Jones preached and otherwise participated in the camp's evangelistic ministry to lower-class children from the Evansville area. Jones credited this experience with having had a significant impact on his later career.
Jones completed his bachelor of arts (1959) and master of arts (1961) in speech from Bob Jones University and took additional courses in speech and drama at Northwestern University and New York University. He also received honorary degrees from two small Bible schools and a seminary.
Although less intellectually gifted than his father, Jones III did excel academically. Unlike his father, though, Jones III also developed an interest in athletics—basketball as a young man, and later skiing, hunting and other outdoor sports. He enjoyed flying and even considered a military career.
Nevertheless, by the end of his undergraduate years, Jones believed that he had been called to “help perpetuate the ideals and standards” of the school that his grandfather had founded. He served as a teaching assistant in the speech department and then as a dormitory supervisor. Between 1961 and 1971, his father provided a growing administrative role in the University, including preaching for campus services. He also accepted an increasing number of off-campus speaking invitations.
Unlike his father, Jones III became genuinely interested in the mechanics of university administration, although his training for his college presidency was, like his father's, informal at best. To help with business judgments, Jones eventually appointed a personal friend and former businessman, Bob Wood, as vice president. Rather shy and "reticent to initiate conversations with strangers", Jones was also a highly competitive, 'Type A' personality, who regularly worked sixteen hours a day during his presidency. In conjunction with the university's 70th anniversary celebration, Governor David Beasley presented him with the Order of the Palmetto.
Jones inherited the presidency of Bob Jones University as its enrollment continued to climb but also as the school began to face the opposition of the federal government to its racial policies. During the early 1980s, Jones was frequently interviewed by the media, and he presented the position of the University—as a matter of First Amendment rights—to the best of his considerable ability. Nevertheless, Jones had difficulty finding a route of escape from the positions on race that had been adopted by his predecessors during the period of segregation in the early twentieth-century South and which he himself had endorsed in his youth.
Jones is married to Beneth Peters Jones, an author and seminar speaker, whom he had gotten to know when she played Roxane to his Christian in a campus performance of Cyrano de Bergerac. They have three children. His younger son, Stephen Jones, replaced him as president of BJU in May 2005 when Jones III took the title, "Chancellor."
Jones III remains chairman of the International Testimony to an Infallible Bible and chairman of the board of directors of the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery. He continues a demanding travel and speaking schedule.
In December 2014, as part of a BJU-commissioned investigation to determine if students had "received inadequate help when they reported to a BJU representative that they had been abused or assaulted at some point in their past," G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), an independent Christian organization, reported that Jones III had "repeatedly demonstrated a significant lack of understanding regarding the many painful dynamics associated with sexual abuse" and recommended BJU take "personnel action" against him.Bob Jones III once declared that BJU had banned interracial dating because "God has separated people for His own purpose"; nevertheless, on March 3, 2000, he announced on Larry King Live that the University would abandon the long-standing rule over which the university had lost its federal tax-exempt status in 1983.
In 1980, Jones said the problem of homosexuality would be solved "posthaste if homosexuals were stoned." In March 2015 he issued a public apology for this statement, saying in part that it was, "antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ. Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached. I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners."
In 1982, when asked by TV talk show host Phil Donahue, "Does anybody get to heaven if he's not born again?" Jones replied, "Absolutely not. Jesus told Nicodemus, a religious man, 'You must be born again.'...The Lord Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.'"
Jones once denounced Ronald Reagan as 'a traitor to God's people' for choosing as his vice president George H.W. Bush, whom Jones called "a devil." Some years later, however, he personally thanked the elder Bush for being a good president.
Jones referred to Catholicism as "the religion of the anti-Christ and a Satanic system" and called Mormonism and Catholicism "cults which call themselves Christian". In October 2007, he endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, for the Republican nomination for President.
Shortly after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, Bob Jones III sent a congratulatory letter to the president declaring that he had "been given a mandate....Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ."
In 2011, referring to Barack Obama's religion, Jones said, "Some people will say whatever they think the politically helpful thing would be.... I say, 'Where is the evidence that he is a Christian?'"
Jones's most often repeated quotation: "The most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to Hell today."