In English, we use the word prophet, but in Quran two different names are used for prophets: rasul and nabi.
What is the difference between rasul and nabi?
A loose definition in English is that a Nabi (pl. Anbiya) is a Prophet, and a Rasul (pl. Rusul) is a Messenger. Linguistically, a Nabi is someone who has been given revelation or news (of an important nature, immediately concerning themselves or their communities). A Rasul, linguistically, is someone given a message to deliver.
There are two main classical opinions (of course) about whether there is a difference between the two terms or not.
The first opinion is that the two terms are interchangeable - that every Nabi is a Rasul and every Rasul is a Nabi. The second is that there is a difference.
The evidence for the first opinion are the various ayaat in the Qur'an that talk about Rusul only, e.g. 2:285. The evidence for the second opinion are mainly two:
However there is a strong rebuttal to the second opinion as well:
And the other points of evidence are rebutted similarly.
In the end it's all about how you define things. And the tl;dr version of this answer is that there is no clear well-defined difference between the two terms.
And Allah knows better :)
A Prophet is one who has received revelation from Allah but is not required or told to spread it, While a messenger receives revelation and is told to spread it. And every Rasool is a Nabi, but not every Nabi is a Rasool. Nooh (peace be upon him) as is mentioned in the Hadith of Shafa'ah is the first Rasool:
يَا نُوحُ أَنْتَ أَوَّلُ الرُّسُلِ إِلَى أَهْلِ الْأَرْضِ
O Nooh, you are the first Messenger to the people of Earth...
So those before him were Anbiya'.
And for more information see this(Arabic).
All the prophets (messengers of Allah) were called Nabi. But those who came with books were called Rasool. These books were given to establish a new Shariat (codes of law) by Allah. Nabi was also the messenger of Allah, but he was not given any new Shariat and followed the shariat of earlier Rasool. The Rasool is higher in rank than a Nabi. A Prophet is always a Nabi by birth, but a prophet become Rasool when he officially receives the post and declares it.
Out of 25 Prophets mentioned in the Holy Quran, among about 124000 Nabis, Six were Rasool, and are called Ulu l-azm prophets, meaning those who possess a quality of determination and firmness.
The six Rasools and Ulul-azm Prophets are:
1 - Hazrat Nooh (Alayhis - salaam)
2 - Hazrat Ibrahim (Alayhis - salaam)
3 - Hazrat Dawud (Alayhis - salaam)
4 - Hazrat Musa (Alayhis - salaam)
5 - Hazrat Isa (Alayhis - salaam)
6 - Hazrat Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam)
Simply, every messenger is a prophet [Nabi], but not every Prophet is a Rasool [Apostle]. All Rasools were Nabi but all Nabis were not Rasools.
For more information, check out:
Rasul OR Mursal has the same meanings as courier. Courier of some scripture or religious text.
It is believed that they come with some scriptures. Rasul is specific term as compared to Nabi. Every Rasal is Nabi as well.
It is believed that there are many Rusul but only five Rusul are quoted in Quran.
And Nabi (Prophet), on the other hand, is a chosen person by God to bring reforms to some society, culture or region either on the bases of his own carrying scripture being as Rasul or on the bases of his preceded Rasul.
CLARIFICATION - the above mentioned five messengers have been understood by scholars to be possessors of resolute will (ulul azm) from amongst the messengers, according to a simple net search, at least 25 have been referred to as rasul in the Quran.
Quran 3:33 :
Indeed, Allah chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of Amran over the worlds.
The families of Noah and Abraham were selected. Selected for what?
Quran 57:26 :
And We have already sent Noah and Abraham and placed in their descendants Prophethood and Books; and among them is he who is guided, but many of them are defiantly disobedient.
The Quran tells us the two families were chosen. The family of Noah and Abraham.
Further more, Quran 04:163 :
Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], as We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him, that is, we revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes and Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and We gave to David a section.
The verse above tells us who were the people in the family of Prophet Abraham and Amran. To be more explicit, we have to refer to Quran's verse 06:83 - 89. In these verses, the name of the Prophets were stated:
The family of Abraham - Ismael, Ishaq, Yacob, Yusuf, Alyas, Alyasa, Zakaria, Yahya and Muhammad.
The Famly of Imran [Israel] - Musa, Harun, Dawood, Sulaiman, Ayub, Yunus and Esa.
All these messengers were descended from the two families and as such they were Nabi [Prophets].
Those messengers that were not descended form these two families cannot be Nabi but only Rasul [Messenger]. These Messengers were Hud, Saleh and Shuaib.
Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, in one of his Seerah classes, probably the 10th or 11th halaqa of the Seerah lectures given at Memphis, had said that there are several opinions in this regard, the most correct probably being that the Rusul were those whose ummahs rejected them, and the Anbiya were those whose people accepted them. This is attested by all examples and events from the Quran, as iterated by the Sheikh in that lecture. Of course it is understood that all of the Rusul were Anbiya, but not vice versa. Wallahu a3lam.
Rasul is the one to whom the revelation is given and Nabi only gives the message. Every Rasul has to be Nabi but every nabi is not rasul. For example, to pass 8th standard, we have to pass the 2nd standard first. So here, 2nd standard is the Nabi and 8th standard is Rasul.
According to a hadith from Ahl-ul-Bayt in the hadith book Usul-Kafi. Nabi can see the revelation angel in his dreams, and while wake he can only hear the voice of the revelation angel but can't see him. But Rasul a can both see and hear the revelation angel in both his dream and consciousness (awake). (Reference: Usul Kafi, vol 2, page 42).
Another hadith narrated by Abuzar from the messenger of Allah Muhammad (SAWW) states that:
Abuzar asked from Prophet(SAWW): How many prophets are there?
Messenger(SAWW) answered: There are 124000 Nabi that 300 of them are Rasul that 5 of them are founders of new religion.
Rasoul comes from Risalla, which is the standard Arab word for a message, like any postcard or any email message. Every man is a Rasoul everyday. Nabi comes from Hebrew Navi, which comes from Nevouha, which is Prophecy, which is vision of the Future or of the Devine. Only in the Old Testament there are Prophets.