Bible Quotes in Little House books

This is a list of all the Bible quotes in the Little House books. I’ve also listed, in italics, novels and poems mentioned in the series, as well as some of the hymns. It’s very much a list like the one I made a little while ago for the Little House On the Prairie TV series.

Comments and additional information always welcome!

I’ve included the 8 principal novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder as well as the posthumously published “The First Four Years” and her recently published memoir, “Pioneer Girl.”

“Little House in the Big Woods”

The family reads from an illustrated Bible and Laura likes best the story of Adam naming the animals (ch. 5, “Sundays”). 

Pa sings a little of the hymn, “Rock of Ages,” which is one of the few hymns from the books that are also sung in the TV series.

The “Harvest” chapter, in which Charley cries wolf one too many times, is a clear allusion to Aesop’s fable.

“Farmer Boy”

Nothing, beyond a simple statement that “Mother read the Bible and Eliza Jane read a book.”

“Little House On the Prairie”

The book doesn’t mention the Bible or novels, which is no surprise since the family was alone on the Kansas prairie and the girls were not yet in school. 

Pa sings a little of the hymn, “There Is A Happy Land,” which is one of the few hymns from the books that are also sung in the TV series.

“On the Banks of Plum Creek”

In the “Rain” chapter, the family reads about the locust plague in Egypt and the land of milk and honey. Wilder quotes directly from Exodus 10, verses 14a and 15 —

And the locusts went up over the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt; very grievous were they[; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such].

For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruits of the trees which the hail had left; and there remained not any green thing on the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.

In the “Going to Church” chapter, the Sunday-school teacher has Laura recite “the shortest verse in the Bible,” which Laura does, though we are not told what the verse is or where to find it. John 11:35 is in fact famous as the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible and many other translations (“Jesus wept”), though it is not the shortest in the original Greek.

At the end of the “Prairie Winter” chapter, they sing two hymns.  In “Going to Church,” they sing “There is A Happy Land, Far, Far Away”.

In “Town Party,” Willie is playing with a Noak’s Ark.

Laura encounters “Mother Goose” for the first time; she also says that Ma has been reading frequently to them from “the novel named Millbank,” which indeed is a novel of that name written by Mary J. Holmes, as noted by Sarah Uthoff.

“By the Shores of Silver Lake”

In “Christmas Eve”, Pa sings a hymn, “Mountain of the Lord (Come Let Us Go Up)”, in which one stanza goes:

And many nations shall come and say,
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!
And He will teach us, will teach us of His ways,
And we will walk in His paths.

This is all taken from Isaiah 2:3 —

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

In “The Surveyors’ House,” Pa sings an 1867 song, “Paddle Your Own Canoe”, of which one lyric is, “Then love your neighbor as yourself,” a quote from many places in the Bible. 

In the chapter “On The Pilgrim Way”, Reverend Alden says, “Mary is a rare soul, and a lesson to all of us. We must remember that whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth”, a direct quote of Hebrews 12:6, “and a brave spirit will turn all our afflictions to good.”  He prays later, in Laura’s words, about “God, who knew their hearts and their secret thoughts” – an allusion to many verses in the Bible, for example Psalm 44:21 —

Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.

In that same chapter, the family sing the hymn, “There Is A Happy Land.”

In “Where Violets Grow”, Pa sings an 1880 song, “Keep the Horse Shoe Over the Door”, another of the few songs that made it into the TV series. 

In the chapter “Happy Winter Days”, Mary brings home some issues from the New York Ledger, a popular family journal, containing a serially published story: “So while Ma and Carrie got supper, Laura began to read to them all a wonderful story, about dwarfs and caves where robbers lived and a beautiful lady who was lost in the caves.”  I can’t find anything online about this story, or whether it might be a novel.  In “Pioneer Girl,” Pamela Smith Hill notes that the New York Ledger featured “verse, moral essays, and fiction by such writers as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, William Cullen Bryant, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens” (page 123).

In “End Of The Rails”, the girls overhear some railroad men singing “There Is A Happy Land” (Laura identifies it here as “Ma’s favorite hymn”) but with their own words:

There is a boarding house
  Not far away
  Where they have fried ham and eggs
  Three times a day.

Wow! How the boarders yell
  When they hear that dinner bell!
  Whoop! How those eggs do smell!
  Three times——

He was singing out these shocking words, and some other men were too, when they saw Ma and stopped. Ma walked on quietly, carrying Grace and holding Carrie’s hand. The brakeman was embarrassed. He said quickly, “We better hurry, ma’am, that’s the dinner bell.”

…The brakeman led the way in, and set down the satchels. The floor needed sweeping. There was brown paper on the walls, and a calendar with a big shiny picture of a pretty girl in a bright yellow wheatfield.

I can’t find anything online about that picture, presuming it’s a famous one at all.

In “Breaking Camp”, Laura and Lena milk cows while singing a song, “Nobody Ask’d You,” or, “Where Are You Going, My Pretty Maid”:

 Where are you going, my pretty maid?
 I’m going a-milking, sir, she said.
 May I go with you, my pretty maid?
 Oh, yes, if you please, kind sir, she said.

 What is your fortune, my pretty maid?
 My face is my fortune, sir, she said.
 Then I can’t marry you, my pretty maid.
 Nobody asked you, sir, she said.

“The Long Winter”

In the “Indian Warning” chapter, Laura says, “Oh, that I had the wings of a bird!” and recognizes it as a Biblical verse.  She is quoting Psalm 55:6 –

Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

In the “Cap Garland” chapter, the teacher reads the entirety of Psalm 23 to the class; Laura says she knows all the Psalms by heart. 

Ma says at one point, “Pride goes before a fall”, referring to a railroad superintendent who came from the east to personally try to ram his trains through a snow-blocked cut in the mountains and failed spectacularly (“The Hard Winter”).  But her phrase is a common misquotation of Proverbs 16:18 —

Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Mary and Laura compete to see who can name more Bible verses, in “We’ll Weather the Blast.”

The many hymns sung in this novel may have direct quotes from the Bible.  In the hymn, “We’re All Here: The Song of the Freed Men”, the verses “Do thyself a no harm, We’re all here” are a direct quotation of Acts 16:28 (“Four Days’ Blizzard”).

I have more about the songs in this novel, in my “Long Winter” review.

“Little Town On the Prairie”

In the chapter, “Springtime On the Claim,” Mary says, “We are all desperately wicked and inclined to evil as the sparks fly upwards,” an allusion to Job 5:7 –

Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

Mary also quotes from Psalm 23, and calls it “the loveliest Psalm of all” –

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.

Laura compares herself to whited sepulchers in “The School Board’s Visit”:

Carrie was carefully good, and in obedience to Pa, Laura was well-behaved, too. She did not think then of the Bible verse that speaks of the cup and platter that were clean only on the outside, but the truth is that she was like that cup and platter. She hated Miss Wilder. She still felt a burning resentment against Miss Wilder’s, cruel unfairness to Carrie. She wanted to get even with her. Outside, she was shining clean with good behavior, but she made not the least effort to be truly good inside.

She is referring to Matthew 23:27 –

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

In ch. 19 (“Whirl of Gaiety”), Pa makes up a charade based on the Acts of the Apostles, balancing two potatoes on the edge of his ax (he calls it “Commentators on the Ac’s”). Later, they sing a hymn, “The Good Old Way”.

In the same chapter, Laura gets a copy of “Tennyson’s Poems” for Christmas and reads some lines from “The Lotos-Eaters” (see also the earlier chapter, “Snug For Winter”).  Carrie’s Christmas gift is Lizzie Bates’ “Stories From the Moorland”, as noted by Sarah Uthoff, who says that this title and the above-mentioned “Millbank” are the only novels named by title in the Little House books. Laura gives the title as “Stories Of the Moorland”. 

In “The Birthday Party,” Laura reads from her favorite of Tennyson’s poems:

Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad
And the musk of the rose is blown.

In the chapter “The Whirl of Gaiety,” the town puts on a show, “Mrs. Jarley’s Wax Works,” in which townspeople dress up to resemble lifeless wax models of famous people, who come to life when directed by “Mrs. Jarley” – a character from Charles Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop”. (Dickens based Mrs. Jarley on the real-life Madame Marie Tussaud).  The “wax” figures in the town’s show resemble George Washington, Daniel Boone, Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh.

“These Happy Golden Years”

In the chapter “Managing”, Pa says, “That’s right, Laura, listen to your Ma. ‘Wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.’ ”  That’s a paraphrase of Matthew 10:16 –

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Mary talks about how easily she reads Bible verses in Braille, in “Mary Comes Home.”

In “Barnum Walks,” they sing a hymn, “The Heavens Declare the Glory”, that quotes Psalm 19:1-3 exactly in its chorus:

The heavens declare the glory of God and
The Firmament showeth His handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and
Night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.

In the chapter “Summer Days”, Mary misquotes the verse “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” from Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, as “Gather ye roses while ye may.”  The phrase is thought to be built at least partly on Wisdom of Solomon 2:8 —

Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered.

In the chapter, “A Cold Ride,” when Almanzo is thinking of riding through a storm to bring Laura home for the weekend, Cap Garland says to him, “God hates a coward.”  This has no exact match in the Bible but may be connected to 2 Timothy 1:7 –

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

In the chapter “East or West, Home is Best,” Laura quotes Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII”, Act 3:  “Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.”

In “Jingle Bells,” Laura is reading Tennyson’s Poems.

I don’t know what painting is referred to here:

Laura and Almanzo sat waiting. In the center of the sitting room a marble-topped table stood on a crocheted rag rug. On the wall was a large colored picture of a woman clinging to a white cross planted on a rock, with lightning streaking the sky above her and huge waves dashing high around her. (“Little Gray Home in the West”)

“The First Four Years”

Laura has a bread plate decorated with a quote from Matthew 6:11 — “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”.

This book mentions a “paper-backed set of Waverly novels,” and “Sir Walter Scott’s novels.”  She means the Waverley Novels, which were written by Sir Walter Scott.  Per Wikipedia, they were a series of novels that for nearly a century “were among the most popular and widely read novels in Europe.”

Laura is also planning to stock their home’s shelves with “Scott’s and Tennyson’s poems”.

“Pioneer Girl”

The Bible is mentioned with some regularity, but no more than in the novels, and almost always merely as “the Bible.”  The only direct quote I noticed is when Laura describes the tight seating arrangements in a one-room cottage at Silver Lake: 

We all had New Year’s dinner with the Boasts and it was all the more fun because their one room was so small, that with the table set, we had to go in the outside door and around to our place at the table one by one and leaving the table we must reverse the order and go out the door following the scripture that, “The first shall be last and the last first.”

That is a quotation of Matthew 20:16 –

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Leave a Reply