Human labour is regarded in the OT as sharing in the divine purpose (Exod. 20: 8; 34: 21) because God's work was described in Gen. 1 as creative. Jesus ‘worked’ (John 5: 17) by healing on a Sabbath, which he justifies on the ground that God continued to maintain the universe even during the prescribed Sabbath day of rest: the obligation to rest can be set aside to enable Jesus to do God's work. Paul worked for his living (Acts 18: 3), and exhorted his converts not to be idle (1 Thess. 4: 11).

On the other hand, work is part of the penalty for sin (Gen. 3: 17), and much labour described in the Bible was arduous and unrewarding. For some of it the Hebrews used slaves (Exod. 21: 2–6) and captured foreigners (Josh. 9: 3–27); and slaves are frequently mentioned in the Roman period by the NT, e.g. the epistle to Philemon. Women had heavy manual work such as fetching water (Gen. 24: 15; John 4: 7) but could also aspire to be entrepreneurs (Acts 16: 14).