The difference between Prophet and Messenger
(A Quranic definition)
One of the issues that always comes up when discussing the Quran is the difference between a Prophet (Nabi) and a Messenger (Rasoul). Since it is God who sends all Prophets and Messengers, then who better than God to give us the definition of each?
Even though the definitions of the words Prophet and Messenger are clearly given in the Quran, the majority of traditional scholars do not accept the Quranic definition and instead uphold a definition of their own making, or one which they have inherited from their predecessors. Placing the interpretations of scholars above the words of God reflects a disbelief in God and His word (Quran). For that, we read the following clear warning in the Quran:
They took their scholars, their monks and the Messiah, the son of Mary, as lords besides God when they were commanded to worship only One God, there is no god but He. 9:31
God's Definition of Prophet and Messenger
(Nabi and Rasoul)
In 3:81 God defined the exact duty of the Prophet (Nabi) and also the duty of the Messenger (Rasoul):
God took a covenant from the Prophets, "For what I have given you of the Scripture and wisdom, then afterwards, a messenger comes to you confirming what is with you; you shall believe in him and support him." He said, "Do you agree to this and accept this obligation from Me?" They said, "We agree." He said, "Therefore bear witness and I am with you among the witnesses." 3:81
Verse 3:81, among many other verses, provide the definitions of a Prophet and also a Messenger. A Prophet is a Messenger of God who delivers a new Scripture, while a Messenger (who is not a Prophet) is commissioned by God to confirm an existing Scripture. Only the Messengers who deliver a new Scripture are called Prophets. As a result, every Prophet is also a Messenger, but not every Messenger is a Prophet. We have numerous pieces of Quranic evidence to confirm this truth. We read in the following verse how it is the Prophets who are sent with the Scriptures:
The people used to be one nation, then God sent the Prophets as bearers of news and as warners. He brought the Scriptures down with them bearing the truth to judge among the people in their disputes. 2:213
Those who are not sufficiently familiar with the Quran tend to think that Aaron was a Prophet who did not receive a Scripture. They claim that the Torah was given to Moses and not to Aaron! This is totally inaccurate since God ascertains that the Torah was given to both Moses and Aaron:
And We gave the two of them (Moses and Aaron) the clarifying Book. 37:117 (also 21:48).
More Proofs from the Quran
Prophethood and Scripture:
Whenever God mentions Prophethood in the Quran, God also mentions Scripture. The following are some examples:
No human being whom God gave the Scripture, authority and Prophethood is then to say to the people, "Worship me rather than God." But instead, "Devote yourselves to your Lord according to the Scripture you have been teaching and to what you have been studying. 3:79
These were the ones to whom We have given the Scripture, the law and the Prophethood. Therefore, if these people disbelieve in it, We have already entrusted it to people who do not disbelieve in it. 6:89
We granted him Isaac and Jacob and We placed among his descendants the Prophethood and the Scripture. We granted him his reward in this world and in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous. 29:27
We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, judgement and Prophethood. We provided them with good provisions and favoured them over all people. 45:16
We sent Noah and Abraham and We placed among their descendants the Prophethood and the Scripture. Some of them were guided while many were wicked. 57:26
Messenger Prophet and not, Prophet Messenger:
In 7:157 God described Prophet Muhammed as, "the Messenger Prophet" and not as 'the Prophet Messenger'. This is not a coincidence, God does not do coincidences! The reason is that not every Messenger is a Prophet, and so in the case of Muhammad, he was a Messenger who was also a Prophet (as opposed to Messengers who are not Prophets).
Moses, the Messenger Prophet:
Along the same lines, we read in 19:51 that Moses was a "Messenger Prophet", and not as a Prophet Messenger.
Ismail, the Messenger Prophet:
The same in 19:54 about Ishmael.
The question is: if every Messenger is also a Prophet, why would God need to emphasise that every one of Muhammad, Moses and Ishmael was a "Messenger Prophet"?
Other examples are found in the Quran to clarify this description:
Messenger nor a Prophet:
Perhaps one of the strongest pieces of Quranic evidence that the words Prophet and Messenger do not have the same meaning, is found in the following verse:
We did not send before you any Messenger, nor a Prophet, without the devil attempting to tamper with his wishes. 22:52
If the words Prophet and Messenger had the same meaning God would not be saying "Messenger, nor a Prophet", for it would be an unnecessary repetition.
Muhammad was not the father of any of your men, but he was a Messenger of God and the seal of the Prophets. God is knowledgeable of all things. 33:40
According to 33:40, Muhammad was the last of all Prophets. There will be no Prophets to come after him. And since it is only the Prophets who deliver the Scriptures, it follows that the Quran is the final Scripture to be sent by God. We must also be aware that 33:40 clearly states that Muhammad was "a Messenger of God" and not 'the seal of the Messengers'. God is very deliberate with His choice of words. If Muhammad was also the last of all Messengers, as the Sunni's call him (Khatam Al-Mursaleen), then why does God call him only "a Messenger of God"?
For every nation is a Messenger. After their Messenger comes, they are judged equitably and they will not be wronged. 10:47
And they say, "When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?" 10:48
1- The words in 10:47 confirm that every nation receive a Messenger, and since there will be nations on earth until the end of the world then it also follows that there will be future Messengers to come until the end of the world. That is why Muhammad is not the last messenger.
2- The words 10:48 speak of the coming of Messengers in the future. It is an event which would happen after the revelation of the Quran and after the Prophet Muhammad. This is why the ones asking in 10:48 are asking about a future event and saying:
"When will this promise come true?"
1- All Prophets are also Messengers, simply because they deliver a message from God.
2- Many Messengers do not deliver a Scripture, they are not Prophets.
Related Subject: Was Muhammad the last messenger?