I don’t know what it was that jumpstarted my love for the Bible, but something, somewhere changed and I began to love reading my Bible. Certianly part of that became a deeper understanding of God’s Word. I wanted to list a couple of resources that I think would be helpful in getting to understand the world in which the Bible was written.
If you could only have one Bible for the purposes of studying it, I think the NET Bible would be the one. Unlike traditional study Bibles the NET was concieved as a digital Bible first. Second, instead of having obtuse translation notes (I’m looking at you ESV) the NET goes into detail on why they translated something and where they are pulling the text from. This gets into textual transmission but one great point about the NET is that it’s transparent. When they translate a verse that is different from a wooden reading, they often give that wooden (sometimes unfortunately called literal) translation.
If you are ever thinking about entering seminary the best preparation is to have a thorough knowledge of your primary source: the Bible. You should know general themes of books, the order of books, etc. You should be Bible saturated. This way, when you head into classes you have a framework for them to build onto.
Additional Primary Sources
Once you have a grasp on the Bible there are some additional sources that I would recommend. I can’t take complete credit for this recommendation, my OT professor was the one who actually made it. Anyway, the Apocrypha would be a good addition to your library. I like the NRSV Apocrypha because you buy it as a standalone book.
This will help bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the New. There are many good works in here, some, like Sirach, you could even empthasize with its inclusion in the canon (I’m not advocating that).
Next, I would say Michael Holmes’s Apostolic Fathers is a great addition. Some of these works are written, presumably, before the closing of the NT canon. Works like 1 Clement sound similar to Paul’s epistles. Others like Hermas are so out there you will wonder why people included it in the canon. Nonetheless that brings up the main point in reading these works: as the church was listening to the Holy Spirit, found in Scripture, some of these works were so profitable that it wasn’t always clear which were inspired and which were just good works.
The Apostolic Fathers will also give you an appreciation for the post-Act church life. What did the early church find important? What were they dealing with?
The Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Fathers would give you a good understanding of Christianity in its original context. Once you read all of those thoroughly (and you can’t really exhaust the Bible) there are other works after that. But this would be my suggestion to start with. It’s one which I wish I had. But I am making up for lost time with my thesis.