I have now seen several articles now that use the terms synonymously but I saw a comment on a couple of the articles chastising the author for doing so? Is there a difference? If so, what is the difference?
It is widely believed that "rasul" is a prophet who has been given books like Moses, Jesus and Mohammad(peace be upon all of them), and "nabi" is a prophet who hasn't been given books. But this is wrong according to some Turkish scholars. Here is their common answer:
Nabi: Comes from the root "nebe" which means news/message. Nabi is literally means who takes messages. For a religious term, who takes messages from Allah. Doesn't matter through angels or directly like Moses(puh) and Mohammad(puh).
Rasul: Comes from "risala" which means something which transfer (probably knowledge). Today, books are called risala. Thus rasul means someone who transfers the message taken from Allah to people.
In this context, every prophet is both nabi and rasul. First, they take the message, this is "nubuvvet". Then they deliver the message to the people, this is "risalet". For example Mohammad(puh) became nabi when the first verses came to him. He became rasul 3 years later, when he began to deliver the message.
You can think about a teacher. A teacher is always a teacher (like nabi), but he doesn't teach all the time (like rasul).
The scholars I mentioned also claims that in Quran, in the verses related with the Prophet(puh)'s personal issues, the word nabi is used, because the messages/warnings were for him. For example: Surat At-Taĥrīm 66/1:
O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allah has made lawful for you, seeking the approval of your wives? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (English translation)
Ya eyyuhennebiyyu lime tuharrimu ma ehallellahu leke tebteğıy merdate ezvacike vallahu ğafurun rahıymun. (Original Verse in Latin Alphabet)
Or Surat Al-'Aĥzāb 33/59:
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. (English translation)
Ya eyyühen nebiyyü kul li ezvacike ve benatike ve nisail mü'minıne yüdnıne aleyhinne min celabıbihinn zalike edna ey yu'rafne fe la yü'zeyn ve kanellahü ğafurar rahıyma (Original Verse in Latin Alphabet)
Lets look at Surat Al-'A`rāf 7/157 for better understanding:
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So they who have believed in him, honored him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him - it is those who will be the successful. (Surat Al-'A`rāf 7/157)
Ellezıne yettebiuner rasulen nebiyyel ümmiyyellezı yecidune mektuben ındehüm fit tevrati vel incıli ye'müruhüm bil ma'rufi ve yenhahüm anil münkeri ve yühıllü lehümüt tayyibati ve yüharrimü aleyhimül habaise ve yedau anhüm ısrahüm vel ağlalelletı kanet aleyhim fellezıne amenu bihı ve azzeruhü ve nesaruhü vetteveun nurallezı ünzile meahu ülaike hümül müflihun (Original Verse in Latin Alphabet)
Please pay attention to the bold words. "tebi" means to dedicate yourself to someone, following his orders and footsteps. It is used with "rasul". "tebi to rasul" means following the rasul's orders and footsteps. "ümmi" means ignorant. This word is interpreted as "not knowing reading-writing", or "not knowing something generally". It is used with the word "nabi", "ümmi nabi" means unlettered prophet in English translation. Here you can see the difference if you look at the semantics of the verse. In this verse, emphasis is generally on the word rasul, it is in the center. And the rest of the verse is about his orders, laws, prohibitions etc. Nabi is used only in 1 adjective clause, in order to point that the Prophet(puh) hadn't any knowledge about the topic other than what was revealed to him.
I can give some video links for reference, but they are Turkish, also may not be counted as "proper reference".
I'm not going for their literal meanings though.
Messenger - Is the one who's given scriptures by the creator. e.g. Prophets Moses, Muhammad(pb upon'em) etc.
Prophet - A person chosen by the creator to warn his community against the wrath of the creator and take them towards his mercy. e.g. Prophets Adam, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad (peace be on'em) etc.
Every messenger is a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger.
May the creator guide us all.
salaams yes, there is a difference: every messenger wasa prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger ( i know it's a bit hard to take in) A messenger was provided with a book to give to his people, like Moses, Issa, Mohammed,(peace be upon them all), etc i think there are around 25 messengers and prophets mentioned in the quran, but over 124000 prophets, each with the same message from god to bring his people back to the right path i hope this helps :)