Using a Computer in Biblical and Theological Studies

4: Doing Research in the Information Age

Dr. Harry Hahne, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto

Copyright © 1996-1999 Harry Hahne


  1. Electronic Resources for Research
  2. CD-ROM Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies
  3. The Internet
  4. Electronic Mail
  5. Online Discussion Groups
  6. FTP (File Transfer Protocal)
  7. Telnet
  8. Gopher
  9. Live Online Discussion Groups
  10. World Wide Web
  11. Finding Information on the Internet
  12. Doing Bibliographic Research on the Internet
  13. Other Internet Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies
  14. Recommended Reading

Electronic Resources for Research:

Computers open up many new opportunities for research. Many printed books and research guides are also available electronically (e.g. Religion Index, Philosophers Index, Dissertation Abstracts, Books in Print). Other resources are only available online or on CD-ROM.

Forms of Electronic Information

Electronic research information is available in two main forms:

Advantages of Electronic Research Tools

Doing online and CD-ROM research offers many advantages over printed books:

Major Types of Online and CD-ROM Resources

Some Important Terms

Standards for Electronic Document Publication

New electronic publishing standards allow books to be published electronically and used with a variety of readers. The file format allows an attractive display of the document, hypertext linking and flexible searching.

Two emerging standards are used for Bible reference works:

CD-ROM Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies:

Reference books for Bible study:


Bible Dictionaries:

Bible Multimedia:

Bible Atlases:

Historical and Theological Writings:

General Reference Books

Many general purpose encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, books of quotations and other reference books are available on CD-ROM. See the lesson on Writer's Tools for more details.

Bibliographic Indexes

Hundreds of bibliographic CD-ROMs contain indexes to periodical literature and books. You can quickly search them by topic to find literature on any topic.

Large universities, such as York and University of Toronto, have many CD-ROMs available to search in public areas. You do not need a library card to use these CD-ROMs. A list of CD-ROMs searchable at the at University of Toronto libraries is at gopher://

Tyndale Seminary also has several CD-ROMs, such as ATLA, Religious and Theological Abstracts and Books in Print. Consult the reference desk for a current list.

Some bibliographic CD-ROMs of interest for biblical and theological research include:

The Internet:

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a world wide network of computer networks. Millions of computers are linked together so they can communicate and share data with each other.

Connecting to the Internet

Types of connections:

Ways of connecting to the Internet:

Learning more about the Internet

Electronic Mail:

What is email?

Electronic mail (email) lets you send a message or computer file to any computer which has an internet connection, anywhere in the world. With email, you can correspond with colleagues and friends all over the world or engage in theological discussions even with people you have never met.

Advantages of email:

Email addresses:

A typical address has this form:
The host computer name is also called the domain. The domain has several levels separated by a period, moving right to left from highest domain to lowest. For example, consider the email address:
The userid is "hahne", "chass" is the computer name, "utoronto" is the domain (in this case the school name), "ca" is the high level domain for Canada. Other high level domains include "edu" (educational institution, usually in US), "org" (non-profit organization), "com" (commercial) and "gov" (government).

Sending binary files via email:

The message normally can only be plain ASCII text. To send a binary file (such as word processing document, graphic or spreadsheet file), many mail readers have a feature called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension). This attaches the binary file to a plain mail message in an encoded form. If this feature is not available you can use a UUENCODE program.

Mail reader programs:

The following all require a direct Internet connection (e.g. PPP):

Online Discussion Groups:

There are thousands of ongoing topical discussion groups on the Internet. Scholars, students and laypersons from all over the world can interact on the topic and learn from each other. Many topics cover areas of interest for biblical studies, Christianity, Church history and theology.

Types of Online Discussion Groups:

Finding a Relevant Group

There are discussion groups for practically any topic. There is no one directory of all lists, but the following are very useful:
You can also see other directories by searching the Web for topics list "listserv AND directory".

You can view a list of Usenet newsgroups within any Newsreader program.

Biblical and Theological Discussion Groups

FTP (File Transfer Protocol):

What is FTP?

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a standard way of transferring a file from one computer to another over the Internet.

Anonymous FTP

Anonymous FTP allows anyone to connect to another computer without having an account there with a password. This allows a person to download files the computer owner wants to make publicly available. Many anonymous FTP sites have thousands of public domain and shareware programs you can download for only the price of your connection time

FTP Programs

Windows 95 has a command line FTP program. The public domain WS_FTP is a point and click Windows program that is much easier to use

Downloading a file

For a command line FTP program, use these commands to download the file from the FTP site at

      cd libsoft
      cd lib_master
The "binary" command tells the FTP program that the file is not a text file. Use the command "ASCII" or "text" to download a text file. The "get" command downloads a file (use "put" to upload a file).

The WS_FTP program gives you a graphical directory of files on the remote site, so you can download files by simply pointing and clicking on the file name.

Some Useful FTP sites


Telnet lets you remotely logon to any computer on the Internet, as if you were physically there. This allows you to access your email when you are traveling. You can also run programs on other computers that you do not have on your own. Many library catalogs can be searched by connecting with Telnet.

Windows 95 has a Telnet application and there are public domain ones for Windows 3.1 and Macintosh.


What is Gopher?

Gopher is a menu system that organizes textual information on the Internet to make it available to others. Items are presented in a series of hierarchial menus. The name comes from the mascot for the University of Minnesota ("golden gophers"), where the software was developed. The name also refers to the slang term "go-fer," meaning someone who fetches things for another.

Gopher is rapidly being replaced by the World Wide Web, but many universities still publish large textual databases on Gopher. Once you access one Gopher site, you can usually jump to others.

Connecting to a Gopher

To access a Gopher, type "gopher" from the command prompt if you have a direct Internet connection. You can also include the Internet address of a Gopher you know about on the command line.

To access a specific Gopher from a Web browser, enter gopher:// (or another appropriate address).

Finding Information on Gopher

Many gophers link to search programs that help you find information which is available on Gophers. Two major search programs are available:

Some Gophers of Interest for Biblical and Theological Studies

Biblical and Theological:

Bibliographic research:

Live online group discussions:

IRC ("Interent Relay Chat")

IRC ("Internet Relay Chat") enables a group of people to communicate together in real time. You connect to a "channel", a virtual place with a topic of conversation. When you type a comment, everyone sees it at once.

Newer versions (such as the shareware WSIRC 2.0 Video, allow real time group video conferencing (with an add- on video board) and half duplex audio (like a speakerphone, cannot hear while you speak).

IRC gained international fame during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where updates from around the world came in real time and IRC users gathered channel to hear these reports. IRC had similar uses during the coup against Boris Yeltsin in September 1993, where IRC users from Moscow were giving live reports about the unstable situation there.

For more information and a list of sites see

MUD (Multi-User Dungeons/Domains/Dialogs) and MOO (Mult- User Object-Oriented)

These let you move about in and interact with people in a virtual world. They were originally developed for online dungeon and dragons-type games. These concepts are being used for online courses and interactive discussion groups. For information and a list of sites, see gopher://

World Wide Web:

What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web ("The Web") is a hypertext information system which stores files on the Internet. Web documents can contain text, graphics, sounds and videos. Documents are linked with hotlinks so the user can jump to other documents or places within the same document by clicking on a highlighted word in the document. "Web" indicates that there is an intricate cross linkage of items, much like a spider web.

You do not need to know where the document is located, since the Web browser software takes care of that for you. Document can transparently link to other documents anywhere in the world.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)

HTTP is the standard mechanism for transferring information over the World Wide Web. A HTTP Server sends documents to a various computers whenever they are requested.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

HTML is the standard way of storing documents on the World Wide Web. Documents are marked up to indicate levels of headings, attributes such as boldface and italics, position of graphics, etc. The document focuses more on the content and leave the exact display format of the document to the software on the client computer (the one viewing the Web document). So the exact appearance of the document may be slightly different on a Sun workstation than a PC or Macintosh. To learn how to create your own Web pages, see or

URL (Universal Resource Locator)

A URL is a standard way of referring to a resource which can be accessed on the internet.

A URL has the following form:

protocol = the type of internet resource. The most common are: host = the address of the remote computer providing the resource
path = the directory or subdirectory path on the host computer
file = the file you want to access
Here are some typical URLs:; (FTP to and get the file from the subdirectory libsoft/lib_master). All FTP addresses are listed in URL form in these notes.

Web Browsers

A Web browser is a graphical program that lets you move about through the information available on the World Wide Web. You can view documents and graphics with hypertext links. Simply click on a link with the mouse to jump from site to site and document to document.

Most Web browsers can display pictures, sounds and videos, although there are text-only browsers. Videos are currently a slow to obtain, although that will change in the next two years. Real-time sound quality is AM radio quality, but you can get better quality if you are willing to wait a long time for a download.

A Web browser can also access other Internet resources, such as anonymous FTP, email and Usenet news groups.

Some popular Web browsers:

World Wide Web Sites

Biblical studies:

Textual criticism and biblical manuscripts:

Biblical languages and linguistics:

Online theological journals:

Guides to Internet resources in religious and theological studies:

Church History:

General humanities Computing:

Christian literature, sermons and general Christian information:

Religious studies, Classics and philosophy:

Finding information on the Internet:

The World Wide Web and the Internet have a tremendous amount of useful information. The problem is that it is not always easy to locate information on a specific topic. It helps to have some strategies for finding information that you want.

Online Discussion Groups

One of the best ways to locate things on the Interent is to ask about it on an online discussion group. Pick a listserv or newsgroup that has a topic relevant to the question. You can subscribe to a list temporarily just to ask your question, then unsubscribe after you get your answer.

Frequently Asked Questions Lists

There are FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) lists for most discussion groups. You can download one of these lists to find an answer to many questions. For example, there is a FAQ list about Bible software at Most Usenet FAQ lists are maintained at

Web Hot Links

Each Web site has hot links to other Web sites, FTP sites, Gophers and other internet resources. Once you find one good Web site that is relevant to your topic, you can move from link to link and find other related sites. This often leads to exciting discoveries by serendipity. Moving from link to link in search of information is popularly called "surfing" the Web.

Web Searchers

What is a Web Searcher?

A Web searcher scans millions of World Wide Web sites periodically to create a database of the information available at that site. You can search by key words or phrases in the text of the Web pages. A list of relevant links is returned so you can simply click on a link to jump to an appropriate Web page.

Some good Web Searchers

Netscape home page has a button that will take you to a Web searcher, but it is not as flexible as some other search engines No one search site indexes all sites, so it is often necessary to use more than one.

Some other good search sites are:

How to Use a Web Searcher



Finding Files to Download

Searching Newsgroups

Doing Bibliographic Research on the Internet:

Search Online Library Catalogs

Numerous university online library catalogs worldwide are searchable through the Internet. Some are accessible on the World Wide Web, while you must Telnet to others.

Searching an online catalog saves time since the matching references can be transfered to a personal bibliographic database manager. It is also quicker to search a catalog electronically than to flip through a card catalog.

Some catalogs will email your matches to you so you can import the results to your personal bibliographic database manager, such as Library Master.

Some sample World Wide Web based catalogs include:

Many library catalogs use the Z30.50 protocol, which is a standard way of providing databas einformation on the Internet. This allows you to set up a single search program to access many catalogs and is much faster than using the World Wide Web. A very nice, inexpensive program for searching online catalogs is:

Periodical Literature Searches

The CARL UnCover service allows you to search tens of thousands of journal titles by keyword. Searching is free on the World Wide Web at or by Telnet at You can order article reprints for a copying and copyright fee. The articles can be sent via email, FAX or mail.

Many online information services such as DIALOG have Internet gateways. You can search massive indexes of periodical literature for a fee.

Dissertation Abstracts

You can search for dissertations and theses by abstract contents and keywords through the Dissertation Abstracts gopher site (gopher:// This is the same information as is available in print.

Other Internet Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies:

database on Computing Resources is in the library. This contains an annotated list of books, articles and Internet resources for biblical and theological studies. The list of Interent sites is more comprehensive than this list. I will be adding to it periodically. You can download a copy with a read-only version of Library Master to use on your own computer.

Reading Assignment:


  1. Jeffrey Hsu, Computer Bible Study, ch. 7-8 discuss CD-ROM and online resources for Bible study.

  2. Jason D. Baker, Christian Cyberspace Companion. A Guide to the Internet and Christian Online Resources. Second edition. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker, 1997.


  1. Dave and Mary Campbell, The Student's Guide to Doing Research on the Internet. Chapters 1-8 are general information on using various aspects of the Internet. Chapters 9. 15, 17 list internet resources for humanities, history, literature and other areas of interest.

  2. The Guide the Network Resource Tools is a reference guide on using various Interent tools, such as FTP, Archie, Gopher, listservers, World Wide Web, WAIS, Hytelnet, Whois, IRC, etc. The most convenient version is, since you can jump directly to the links with your Web browser. You can also get it by FTP from