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 only commanded to worship One God. There is no god except Him. 9:31

Quranic definition of prophet and messenger

(nabi and rasoul)

We have in 3:81 a clear distinction between the duty assigned to prophets as opposed to the duty assigned to a messenger who is not a prophet:

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 new Scriptures 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, and He brought the Scriptures down with them with truth to judge among the people in their differences. 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 linking prophethood and Scripture:

Whenever God mentions prophethood in the Quran, God also mentions Scriptures. The following are some examples:

It is not for any human being whom God gave the Scripture, the law, and the prophethood to then say to the people, "Be worshippers of me rather than God," but instead, "Be devoted to the Lord in accordance to the Scripture you have been teaching and in accordance to what you have been studying. 3:79

Those are the ones to whom We gave the Scripture, the law, and the prophethood. If those people disbelieve in it, We have entrusted it to people who are not disbelievers therein. 6:89

We granted him Isaac and Jacob, and We placed among his progeny the prophethood and the Scripture. And We granted him his reward in this world, and in the Hereafter he will certainly be among the righteous. 29:27

We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, the law and prophethood, and We provided them with good provisions, and favoured them over all people. 45:16

We sent Noah and Abraham and We placed among their progeny the prophethood and the Scripture. Some of them were guided, while many were wicked. 57:26

Moses, the prophet messenger:

And mention in the Book Moses. He was totally devoted, and he was a prophet messenger. 19:51

Moses was a "prophet messenger", and not a messenger prophet, meaning that Moses was a messenger who was also a prophet, as opposed to non-prophet messengers.

Ishmael, the prophet messenger:

We read the same in 19:54 about Ishmael.

The question is: if every messenger is also a prophet, why does God use the phrase "prophet messenger"?

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.

Significance of 33:40 and 10:47

Muhammad was not the father of any of your men, but he was the messenger of God and the seal of the prophets. God is Knowledgeable of all things.

According to 33:40, Muhammad was the seal (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 precise in 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"?
The reply is found in the following Quranic verses:

For every nation is a messenger. After their messenger comes, they will be judged equitably and they will not be wronged.

And they say, "When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?
" 10:48

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.

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?"

The verdict of 57:25

We have sent Our messengers with the clear proofs, and We brought down with them the Scripture and the balance so that the people may uphold justice. 57:25

At first glance, the words in 57:25 seem to indicate that the Scriptures of God are not only sent with the prophets, but also with the messengers. This would make it
inaccurate to say that only the prophets are given the Scriptures.

Since every prophet is also a messenger, then God's prophets can be referred to as prophets or as messengers.
Muhammad is referred to as the messenger of God (3:144, 48:29). The same for Jesus (5:75), Moses and Aaron (20:47), Noah (7:61), Lot (26:162) and others.
Every one of the above messengers was also a prophet of God. Yet, they were referred to in those verses as messengers.

To understand any Quranic subject, we should not look at one verse in isolation. This will often lead to misleading results. Instead, we must study all the verses related to that subject. To derive a conclusion from 57:25 on its own will surely be misleading.
When we look at 2:213, we learn that it is the prophets who are sent with Scriptures from God.
The same truth is found in 3:81. The words in 3:81 confirm that all the prophets are given Scriptures, but there are messengers who do not deliver a Scripture but they are sent to confirm previous Scriptures. Such messengers are not prophets.
By studying the verdict of 57:25, 2:213 and 3:81 collectively, it becomes apparent that the words in 57:25 speak about messengers who were also prophets, and not all messengers.

The case of using different words in reference to the same subject, as the case of prophets referred to as messengers, is seen with other Quranic subjects too.
As an example, the period of one month is made up of a number of days. Therefore, we can call this period a "month" or a "number of days."
This we see in Sura 2. God speaks of Ramadan as a month "the month of Ramadan" in 2:185 and also as "a number of days" in 2:184.
This does not mean that any number of days make a month. A period of 13 or 14 days for example does not make a month. The number of days that make a month is only 29, 30 or 31, depending on whether we are referring to a lunar or solar month.
And so, we cannot call any number of days a month, but we can call any month a number of days.
Similarly, prophets may be referred to as messengers (such as in 57:25), but not every messenger can be referred to as a prophet.

To conclude:

1- All prophets are also messengers, simply because they deliver a message from God.
2- Many messengers do not deliver a Scripture, thus they are not prophets.
3- There will be messengers to come after Muhammad, all the way to the end of the world (10:47).
4- Muhammad was the final prophet. No prophets will come after Muhammad (33:40)
5- Therefore, all messengers who come after Muhammad will not be sent with Scriptures.


Related Subject: Was Muhammad the last messenger?